By Ted Hutton | MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE SERVICES
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Story last updated at 3/23/2008 – 2:39 am
As much buzz as there was around Doral last year when Tiger Woods marched to yet another win on the Blue Monster, it was nowhere near the decibel level reached in 2006.
That was when PGA Tour rookie Camilo Villegas strode around Doral, and the flashy, handsome young Colombian collected a huge and enthusiastic gallery that rivaled those following Woods, Phil Mickelson and the tour’s other top stars.
“His effect on our market is huge,” said CA Championship tournament director Eddie Carbone. “Last year we really missed him.”
This year Villegas is back at Doral, as he closed out 2007 with three top-10 finishes and at No. 24 in the FedEx points rankings, earning him a spot in the tournament. He shot a 71-72-143, 11 strokes back after the first two rounds this week.
“I am looking forward to playing there again. I have a lot of fond memories,” Villegas said before the tournament.
So does Carbone, who expects a surge in fans from Latin America with Villegas in the field.
“He is hugely important for us here,” Carbone said.
Villegas tied for second at Doral in 2006, following a tie for second at the FBR Open three weeks before, and he became an instant celebrity with his blond hair, colorful and stylish clothes, long drives and his putt-reading stance that earned him the nickname Spider-man.
While most golfers just squat by bending their knees, Villegas (pronounced bee-JAY-gus) gets into a nearly prone position by stretching one leg straight back, folding the other under his body, putting the fingers of one hand on the green while the other clutches the putter, getting his head so low that his chest and chin end up inches from the grass.
It’s a signature move, and one only a limber person would attempt, that combined with his other assets has helped set him apart from other young players on tour.
“IMG has done a terrific job of marketing him. He’s a good-looking bachelor with a nice-looking body. He has that Colombian flair in the way he dresses. It has been a home run,” said Buddy Alexander, who coached Villegas at the University of Florida.
While the marketing of Villegas has been a success, the 26-year-old native of Medellin is still looking for his first win on tour. He has three second-place finishes, including losing in a playoff at the 2007 Honda Classic, but his only win as a professional came on the Japan Golf Tour last September in the Coca-Cola Tokai Classic.
“He is getting better,” said Alexander, who now coaches Villegas’ brother Manny, who is a senior for the Gators. “He’s a more consistent putter, and that is the area he has worked hard on.”
Having Villegas in the field helps with Carbone’s marketing strategy, which is to bring in visitors not just from the northern reaches of the United States and Canada, but from Europe and Latin America.
“He’s a magnet for those fans. His following was rabid and energetic,” Carbone said.