Villegas burns up course at PGA Deutsche Bank Championship

Nate Crossman

While thousands watched Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh hack their way around TPC Boston Friday in the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship tournament, the real show was three holes ahead of them.

That's where Camilo Villegas was improving his lot in the FedEx Cup playoff standings and silencing his critics at the same time.

Villegas, who's been painted as an erratic putter during his two-year PGA Tour career, appeared to be just the opposite on TPC Boston's firm, fast greens, firing an 8-under-par 63 to grab a two-stroke lead over Mike Weir and Ryan Moore. Villegas rolled it straight and true, pairing eight birdies with no bogies. He birdied the par-4 17 then nearly eagled the 18th before tapping in for another birdie.

"It depends on who you ask," Villegas said of what he thought about his putting performances overall. "If you ask me I think I'm a great putter. If you ask the media it's the other way around, they probably think I'm the worst putter out here. But I'm feeling great."

Villegas was also asked about his paltry gallery, which was the result of the three all-time money leaders being grouped together for the first time in a PGA regular-season event. The terrific trio, however, failed to deliver for its mega-sized following, which was four and five deep in some area. Mickelson finished 1-under, followed by wood at 1-over and Singh at 3-over.

Mickelson looked like he might go low after making birdie on the par-5 second and eagling the much talked about par-4 fourth. But he triple-bogeyed the par-4 ninth, slicing his tee shot into the woods. Woods was 3-over after four holes but methodically worked his way back 1-over. Vijay put himself in danger of missing his third cut in a row,

falling as far back as 5-over before shaving off two strokes on the back nine.

"I certainly made a big mistake on nine," Mickelson said. "I felt like I played really well, and if I can play like that tomorrow, I think I can shoot a pretty good round and get back."

Villegas, who is from Medellin, Columbia and graduated from Florida, is well-known on tour for his toned physique and popularity with female fans, but he's been unable to match his rookie-year success, when he finished in the top 25 seven times. He's picked it up as of late, however, finishing tied for 23rd at the PGA Championship and tied for 21st at The Barclays.

"I've been feeling great all year, I just haven't scored how I would have liked," Villegas said. "Last week was a great week for me. I hit the ball awesome, I just needed to get a putt down here or there, and I did that today."

Villegas came into the Deutsche Bank ranked 46th in the FedEx Cup standings, which should be good enough to qualify him for the BMW Championship in Chicago no matter how he fares in the final three rounds. Villegas isn't concerned one way or the other.

"This whole playoff is not going to change the way we play," Villegas said. "Is it going to be fun for the fans? I think it is because it's easy to pass people and easy to get passed. But I'll play with the same objective every week: tee it up, focus on every shot and try to

win a golf tournament. You can't focus on all that points stuff."

One player who does have to focus on it is Weir, who must finish in the top five to advance to Chicago.

Weir hasn't been playing great - he withdrew from the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Open after aggravating a neck injury then missed the cut at the PGA Championship – but received a boost when President's Cup International team captain Gary Player chose him as a wild-card selection, meaning the Canadian will play tee it up in his home country.

"It does bring me up a little bit," said Weir, who played the front-nine at 4-under before cooling off on the back. "I think more than anything, it was on the back of my mind, can't deny that. It was there for the last few months, thinking about it a lot because I obviously wanted to make that team badly."

Moore entered having missed four cuts in his last seven tries. After missing the cut at The Barclays, Moore was worried he'd plummet in the FedEx Cup standings, but only fell one spot, from 51 to 52. Knowing that he's all but assured a spot in next weekend's BMW Championship helped him relax.

"I'm trying not to think about it too much," Moore said about the fluctuations in the standings. "I'm just trying to go out there and play as good as I can and win a golf tournament because that's the way you take care of everything."

To get that win, however, he'll have to catch Villegas, who's gaining confidence with every made putt.

"My main objective is to feel good, because when you feel good, good things happen," Villegas said. "I wish I had scored a little better throughout the year, but you know what? The year's not over yet, and we can still make it a very special one."