In search of first PGA Tour win, Villegas starting to figure things out

NORTON, Mass. -- Camilo Villegas surveyed the television cameras outside the clubhouse at the Deutsche Bank Championship and was instructed about whom he would speak to and in what order. His head darted from spot to spot, like a cat following a fly.

There were many cameras and microphones, and Villegas -- who had just tied a career best by shooting a third-round 63 at TPC Boston and trailed Mike Weir by a shot with 18 holes to play -- had appointments with all of them.

Looking as purposeful as he just did on the course, the 26-year-old took to this part of the job as well as the multiple-title-winning veterans he has had in his sights since joining the PGA Tour in 2006.

While waiting for his live nationally televised close-up, the Colombian native calmly and coolly flipped a water bottle several times.

After all, he's gotten accustomed to waiting.

Taking what he called "baby steps" throughout his young career, Villegas has been getting closer and closer to breaking down the door to his first win on the PGA Tour.

The former University of Florida standout notched his first top-10 finish in April, when he tied for seventh at the Verizon Heritage. The progression continued with a third-place finish at the AT&T Classic in May, a ninth-place tie at the U.S. Open in June and a fourth-place tie at the PGA Championship earlier this month.

But seeing the likes of Anthony Kim, Chez Reavie and other young players recently take home hardware after victories gave Villegas motivation to raise his game.

"I was very, very patient until maybe middle of this year ... and I said, 'Listen, you know what? I see all these young guys winning, and it's kind of getting into me, but it's getting into me in a good way,'" said Villegas, who has tasted professional victory at the 2001 Colombian Open and the 2007 Coca-Cola Tokai Classic in Japan. "It's time to step it up and give a little kick on my butt and join them. So I've been working on that."

In addition to his young rivals, Villegas was motivated by missing the cut last week in the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs at The Barclays. "The worst cut of the year to miss," he called it.

Villegas appeared undaunted by faster greens and stronger winds than had been the norm during the first two rounds, and equaled the career-best 63 he posted in the first round here at TPC Boston last year.

Villegas needed just 22 putts on his way to eight birdies and 10 pars Sunday. He missed the cut last week by just 1 stroke, but has just one bogey in his past 42 holes. In addition to his solid touch with the flat stick, Villegas has also stepped up his power game. Ranked 52nd in driving distance this season, he stands in 11th place through three rounds this week with an average drive of 309.9 yards.

Villegas, who was the only professional athlete selected as one of People magazine's "Hottest Bachelors" in 2006, gave the large crowd assembled at the 18th green a couple of opportunities to see in person why he is nicknamed "Spider-Man."

Twice he dropped to the ground in a yoga-like pose, in which his chin is nearly touching the green and one leg is bent under his torso, to line up his putt. The contortions were worth it; he sank the 2-footer and finish up at 16 under par.

A good finish this week could effectively serve as a playoff mulligan for Villegas. After getting last weekend off, he could make the biggest jump in the FedEx Cup standings, moving from 68th at the start of the week to potentially as high as third.

Despite the likely boost up the list, Villegas is no fan of the current playoff system.

"With this crazy points system, anything can happen," he said. "I came out here this week with a good attitude and forgot about what happened, forgot about those that are taking benefit of the points system, forgot about those that are being hurt by the points system, and just took care of business."

Villegas has maintained a businesslike approach, even back in his college days. While trying to master English while attending Florida, he says he convinced those who would laugh at how he used the wrong words to instead tell him how he could best improve. And when he attended a large class in which the professor simply followed the book, he had a plan.

"When you have classes with 300, 400 students, I didn't see the point of showing up," said Villegas, who finished with a 3.8 GPA. "I just got my book, I read it and I went and took the test."

During this season, Villegas appears to have looked at his preparation routine with a similarly critical eye.

"It's only my third year on tour, and I've learned about myself year after year," he said. "Believe it or not, one of the things I've learned this year is that there's no need to practice as much. There's no need to bang balls and balls and balls, but just whenever you have a good thought, whenever you have a good feeling, just keep it flowing and go with it. Whenever you're struggling, then you work a little harder. I've definitely practiced a little bit less this year, but I feel better."

Chad Capellman is a freelance writer based in Boston.