News & Opinion

Camilo Villegas enjoys ‘one of those days’ at Texas Open

Camilo Villegas leads first round 2021 Valero Texas Open
Camilo Villegas discusses his 1st-round 64, which leads the Valero Texas Open, on Thursday at TPC San Antonio.

Less than a year removed from injury rehab and family heartache, Villegas shoots 8-under 64 to race in front at TPC San Antonio

Camilo Villegas graduated 17 years ago from the University of Florida with a business degree, but he picked up a fair amount of philosophy along the way.

How else to explain a day that starts with a sloppy bogey, ends with an improbable birdie and seemed magical throughout the middle?

“Some days, the hole is a little bit big, and that was the case today,” Villegas said after he shot 8-under 64 on Thursday to open a two-stroke lead after the first round of the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. “I played really good, but I also got a couple nice breaks.”

Villegas, who started on the back nine at TPC San Antonio’s Oaks Course, bogeyed his first hole, but that would be his only misstep of the day. Villegas holed a 41-foot putt for a bounce-back birdie at the par-4 11th, the first of nine birdies, then ran home a pivotal 26-foot par putt on the next hole, the par-4 12th. He made three more birdies to turn in 3-under 33, then ran off four consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-5. A 38-foot pitch-in from greenside rough on his final hole, the par-4 ninth, added an exclamation point to the day (scores).

“That back nine was solid,” said Villegas, 39, a four-time PGA Tour winner from Colombia who is looking for his first victory since the 2014 Greensboro event. “I kept putting the ball in play and gave myself good chances. Again, I rolled the putter unbelievable today, and it was one of those days. Then on 9, I got really lucky. I hit a chip that was probably going off the green, and hit the pin and goes in. So, it's golf. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't and today was one of those good days.”

Just about any golf fan familiar with his story would agree that Villegas deserves “one of those days.”

In July, his 22-month-old daughter, Mia, died after chemotherapy failed to halt the spread of cancerous tumors that were found on her brain and spine. Villegas and his wife, Maria Ochoa, faced a nightmare in the middle of a pandemic.

“I never asked, ‘Why me?’ ” he told Golfweek’s Adam Schupak for a story last fall. “I think that has helped a lot. We always focused on, ‘What for?’ We’re slowly finding out that answer.”

The couple revised Villegas’ foundation in honor of their daughter, calling it Mia’s Miracles, with a mission to help families in the U.S. and Colombia who face similar challenges.

After having missed nearly two years because of shoulder surgery, Villegas returned to the PGA Tour on a major medical extension. Though he narrowly missed keeping fully exempt status despite a T-8 at the Honda Classic, he earned conditional status for the rest of the season.

“It's just golf,” Villegas said. “We're focused on the process. The last few years, I've been up and down with many things, but you know what? We keep showing up to Bear's Club [his home course in Jupiter, Fla.] and put in hours and have fun with the process. Then, the results start showing up.”

Villegas posted two top-10s in an inconsistent season during which he has missed eight cuts plus a withdrawal in 14 starts. Though he has slipped from a high of No. 7 in the world in 2018 to No. 314 today, Villegas looked like a world-beater Thursday in San Antonio.

South Korea’s Sung Kang stood solo second, at 66. Texan Jordan Spieth, who said he “wedged it really well” after hitting only six of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens, shot 67 for a share of third place. American Cameron Tringale, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and South Korea’s Seung-Yul Noh also shot 67s.

Spieth, an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour, is looking for his first victory in nearly four years, since the 2017 British Open. He owns one victory in his home state, at the 2016 Colonial event in Fort Worth.

Fellow Texan Scottie Scheffler, who like Spieth grew up in Dallas and played college golf at Texas, held a share of seventh place. Scheffler entered the Texas Open after having posted top-5 results in the two recent WGC events, including a runner-up at last week’s Match Play in Austin.

Rickie Fowler shot a birdie-free 4-over 76 that included bogeys on three of his last four holes. Fowler needs to win this week to qualify for the Masters, a tournament in which he has competed for 10 consecutive years and hasn’t missed since his rookie season, in 2010.

The $7.7 million Texas Open will pay $1.386 million to the winner and offer the last invitation to next week’s Masters. And if that happens to be Villegas, it would be his first major-championship start since 2015 and another step on the road to physical and emotional recovery.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.