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Villegas changes attitude after disappointing year

Friday, April 02, 2010

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Camilo Villegas isn't just one of the world's top golfers. He's a pretty good motivational speaker, too.

Now in his fifth season on the PGA Tour, Camilo Villegas has notched three wins, including the Honda Classic in early March. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

One of the hottest players on the PGA Tour leading into the Masters Tournament, the Colombian attributes much of his strong play this year to a "good attitude." He already had the talent.

"I've been really working on the mental side of the game, and it's funny, man," he said. "It's a tricky game and it's so easy for people to say, 'You've got to have a good attitude.' It's easier said than done. To say it, and then to go out there and actually do it and then focus on the process and then to get good results, it's fun."

Villegas, who spoke little English when he started playing at the University of Florida in 2001, has always been goal-oriented. This year, a positive attitude could help him to reach those goals.

"Expectations, we always have them up there," he said. "But more than expectations is your goals, what do you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it. That's why I've been trying to focus on the process this year instead of the result. So far, so good."

In his first three starts this season, Villegas finished third, tied for eighth and won at the Honda Classic in early March.

Villegas, 28, is in his fifth season on the PGA Tour and has three victories. He returns to the Masters after finally enjoying some success at Augusta National Golf Club last year.

Villegas said he played "with a little fear" in his first two Masters and missed the cut in both before tying for 13th last year. He said he was too hard on himself during the 2009 season. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

He tied for 13th (73-69-71-69) by combining length off the tee (a 280.5-yard average) with accurate iron play (he tied for sixth in greens in regulation).

Villegas played his final three rounds in 7-under. Not surprisingly, the change happened once he adopted a more positive attitude after his opening 73.

"I had a lot of negative things in my head," Villegas said, citing the image of balls rolling down the bank and into the water in front of the 15th green.

"I said, you know what, it's a tough golf course, it's a challenging golf course, you have to respect it, but you can't fear it," he said. "It worked. The next three rounds, I took a little more aggressive lines and I just carried myself a little more confident."

He had missed the cut in his first two Masters (80-85 in 2007 and 73-77 in 2008) while playing the course "with a little fear."

Now past that, Villegas is primed for a run at a green jacket at Augusta National, which he calls "a great place; very unique."

Camilo Villegas throws his putter after missing a putt during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

If he wins the Masters this year, Villegas would make it two South Americans to win in a row, following Argentina's Angel Cabrera.

"Well, we always dream about winning majors," Villegas said. "I've always said it; majors make history. We all want to be part of the history of this game, and we've got four big ones every year."

After the way he finished the 2008 season -- back-to-back victories in the final two FedEx Cup playoff events -- it appeared Villegas was on the verge of greatness.

It didn't happen in 2009, and he failed to win. He dropped from second in the FedEx Cup points standings in 2008 to 42nd last year. He also was 0-4-0 in his Presidents Cup debut, playing for the losing International team.

"Last year I felt a little tired, but still, I had a pretty consistent year," Villegas said. "I played 27 events, missed three cuts, made the cut in every major. I just felt a little frustrated because I felt I should have played a little bit better."

During the off-season, Villegas realized he'd been "too hard on myself" in evaluating his 2009 performance.

"I wasn't treating myself like I treat people," he said. "One day I said, 'You know what, if somebody treats me like I treat myself, I would just have a problem with that.'

"And that's when I realized, you know what, just take it easy, man, have fun. There's a lot of people playing this game and wanting to play this game for a living. It's a tough challenge. It's harder than a lot of people think. But I love it. So, got to enjoy it."

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

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