Fortuna is the Roman goddess of fate. Legend has her spinning the “wheel of fortune” to determine the random fate of individuals.
That wheel has been landing in the cruelest of fashions for Camilo Villegas over the last two years.
In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment when his luck changed.
It was the 15th hole at the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Villegas was coming off a victory at The Honda Classic in 2010. He had finished 15th in FedExCup regular season points, had banked more than $3 million during the last year and was voted one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.
Yes, life was good for “El Hombre Araña.”
Little did we know a tangled web awaited the PGA TOUR’s Spiderman.
On that wonderfully clear January afternoon, Villegas was chipping up a steep slope onto the 15th green. He hit a bad shot. He hit two bad shots and each time the chip never got to the green, instead the ball made the crest of the hill and returned down the slope.
Villegas was having a bad hole but what happened in the next 5 seconds turned into a bad tournament and that morphed into a bad year.
The Columbian moved some loose grass as the ball rolled back down the hill. That is a violation of rule 23-1 which says: “When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.”
It should have been a two-shot penalty but the violation was not discovered until a television review following the round. Villegas had already signed his scorecard so instead of a bad hole and a bad round, the mistake turned into a bad tournament. He was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
That seemed to open Pandora’s Box of bad luck.
Villegas opened with a 75 the next week at the Sony Open in Hawaii and missed the cut. He would make just 10 cuts in 25 events that season and tumbled to 109th in FedExCup standings.
The following year was even worse. Villegas made $491,729 and was 148th in FedExCup rankings, necessitating a return to q-school where he finished T32. His putting stroke abandoned him as he ranked a frustrating 164th in strokes gained-putting.
Professional golf is the greatest life in the world when you are playing well. When things go badly, it’s as if you receive a weekly “F” on your report card and things spiral into depression.
It’s a four-part process. There’s a joke among players: First you lose your game, then you lose your confidence, next you lose your money and finally you lose your friends.
Villegas was on that path.
A two-year plummet may have bottomed out at this year’s Honda Classic. Villegas opened with a 64 only to follow it up with a 77 and miss the cut. Fortuna teased him with five tournaments in which he shot opening rounds of 65 or better but finished inside the top 50 just once.
A breakthrough came in April at the RBC Heritage with rounds of 68-71-68-74 and a T9 finish. There was also a T10 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic with four rounds in the 60s.
Perhaps Villegas’ luck finally changed at The Barclays when he left Liberty National Golf Club feeling his FedExCup Playoffs run had ended, only to have a series of bogeys from other finishers vault him into the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Villegas is fully exempt for the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season and will be playing at this week’s Fry’s.com Open.
He has seen both the top and the bottom of life on the PGA TOUR.
Villegas has both talent and persistence. It’s time Fortuna began rewarding those qualities again.
Practice Rounds: Sometimes practice rounds at Pro-Ams are simply social networking. This week they are learning experiences. A batch of rookies is getting its first look at the CordeValle Golf Club and players better be taking notes. The course has severe elevation changes with undulating greens. It will take a couple trips around the track to become comfortable with club selection and the breaks on putting surfaces.
Return trip: Rocco Mediate returns to San Martin where he recorded one of the more unlikely wins of 2010 when he holed out four times for eagle including on the 71st hole of competition. His wedge into the 17th hole on Sunday hit a foot above the cup on the rain saturated green and spun right back into the heart of the cup to finish off his week. That 17th hole is drivable and tees were moved up to provide drama, but Mediate played cautiously off the tee and created the tournament’s most memorable shot with his wedge.
Touch: The greens at CordeValle average a healthy 8,300 square feet. That means it is misleading to look at greens in regulation this week. It’s not just enough to hit the putting surface with your approach; the player must be in the correct quadrant of the green to have a realistic birdie opportunity. An iron into the wrong section of the green could not only take away the chance to make birdie and could lead to a three-jack bogey. Jonas Blixt was outstanding on the greens last year, not just making birdies; he played 72 holes without a three-putt in winning his first PGA TOUR title.
Conditions: Rain has been a problem on the PGA TOUR this week but no delays are expected. The San Martin area has received less than two inches of rain this entire year. The fairways have a slight brown tint but the course is playing beautifully. There is a better chance of an earthquake delay this week than a stoppage from rain.
Winner, winner: The CordeValle course has a history of spitting out first-time winners but I am going against that trend and picking Billy Horschel. He slumped a little following a win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and that may have been from fatigue. Horschel comes in rested and ready to play after a T7 at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He also has history on his side with a seventh-place finish in the 2011 Fry’s.com Open. When you combine talent with high energy, you get a winner.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here