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Putting steps up Villegas' game

Sunday, April 05, 2009

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Camilo Villegas and his power game are supposed to be a good fit for the Masters Tournament.

Camilo Villegas has long gotten attention for his unusual green-reading technique, but it was a late-season improvement in his putting that helped him win the final two FedEx Cup playoff events in 2008, leaving him second behind Vijay Singh in points. (Chris Thelen/Staff)

But the flamboyant Colombian has missed the cut in his two appearances at Augusta National Golf Club.

He shot 80-85 in his 2007 debut and went 73-77 last year.

He had just two birdies in 36 holes in 2008.

Villegas, 27, calls Augusta National "a tough track" and a course that requires a lot of knowledge.

"Hopefully, I have some good memories after this year's Masters," he said. "I've played there twice, and I'm very excited about going there for the third time, and hopefully have a good week."

A check of his statistics for his two rounds at Augusta National last year point out the problems he had on the slick, undulating greens.

Villegas had 66 putts over two rounds. Only Hunter Mahan, with 69, has more putts among those who missed the cut.

"The greens are quick; we all know that," Villegas said.

It was the improvement in his putting later in the season that helped Villegas win the final two FedEx Cup playoff events -- the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship -- and finish second to Vijay Singh in the FedEx Cup.

"My putting got a little better toward the end of the year," he said. "I changed my setup, and I started to roll the ball a little bit better.

"When you start to roll the ball better, it translates to your head, and you gain a little confidence. All of a sudden, you're making one or two more putts a day, and then that's the difference. You put less pressure on your ball-striking, and you start hitting the ball a little bit better."

Kenny Perry noticed the difference in Villegas' putting as the year went along.

"Every time I played with him earlier last year, he couldn't putt," Perry said. "But when I played with him at the FedEx Cup, he never missed a putt and made everything. So what he captured in the short game department turned his game around."

The improved putting might also explain why Villegas played better in the other three majors. In the U.S. Open, he tied for ninth, then in the British Open, he tied for 39th. In the PGA Championship, he tied for fourth.

"I had a good year in the majors," he said.

He made an early splash in the British Open, shooting a second-round 65, the low round of the tournament. That he followed with 79-76 didn't dampen the trip.

"It was my first British Open, and that was a lot of fun," he said.

Villegas had not won on the PGA Tour before his two FedEx Cup playoff wins. Now he's setting his sights on the majors.

"Winning is great; that's why we are here, is to win," Villegas said. "That's the only thing that makes history. Everybody forgets about those guys that finished second. Now the next step is winning majors. That's where the real history is made."

Don't be surprised to see Villegas playing a Masters practice round with 54-year-old Greg Norman, a three-time Masters runner-up. Norman is playing in his first Masters since 2002 by virtue of his tie for third in the British Open.

Villegas teamed with Norman in December's Merrill Lynch Shootout -- formerly known as the Shark Shootout -- and the pair got along famously.

"Greg has been an example for the game, has always been and always will be," Villegas said. "It will be fun to see him play at Augusta."

The Norman-Villegas team finished third at the Merrill Lynch Shootout.

"He was awesome," Villegas said. "We had some great chats. I tried to ask him a bunch of questions about life, golf, etc., and he was very open and very sincere, just giving me advice. He had some interesting answers. It was a lot of good advice, I can tell you that."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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