Eddie Carbone, the director of the CA Championship at Doral, the newly-minted World Golf Championship event March 22-25, wore an orange shirt as he followed the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National on Sunday.
It wasn't an open show of support for the Florida Gators, and their former star Camilo Villegas, a.k.a. the Columbian Cassanova, a.k.a. Spiderman. But Carbone freely admits that interpretation would not be far off.
"It was an OSU [Oklahoma State] shirt," Carbone said, laughing. "But it's not a hell of a secret what Camilo means to the community with what happened last year. He's popular anywhere but he's a rock star at Doral."
In fact Carbone wasn't the only one secretly rooting for Villegas. The PGA Tour tries not to tip its hand but you can tell which guys have commissioner Tim Finchem's eye, which ones get the guys and gals in Marketing all hot and feverish, because they're the players highlighted in the Tour's slickly produced "These Guys are Good" TV spots.
Villegas, of course, has never won, yet with his sinewy arms, pastel pants and good looks, already he's been the subject of a "Good" spot. Whether it's Natalie Gulbis on the LPGA or Villegas on the PGA Tour, the dreamboat factor heightens potential and transcends results. After all of the hullabaloo over FedEx points, majors and rankings, pro golf is ultimately show business. It's about who looks good on camera as much as who goes low.
For the record, Villegas, who tied for second at Doral the first week of March last year, tied for second again at the Honda, which matters because he's not yet in the field at Doral. And he can't get a sponsor's exemption, since WGC events don't have 'em. He has to play his way back.
He'd be a lock had he won a four-man playoff Monday, but he and Boo Weekley, who botched a three-footer to win on the last hole of regulation Sunday, bogeyed the second hole of sudden death. Mark Wilson birdied the third for his first victory in 111 starts, and if you're not sure who Wilson is, he looks a lot like Heath Slocum.
What, that doesn't help?
In any case, with his T2, Villegas moved from 102nd to 26th in FedEx points, and from 112th to 85th in the World Ranking. He needs to crack the top 10 or the top 50, respectively, by March 19, to punch his ticket to Miami.
"He's got two weeks to get in," Carbone said hopefully.
His first inkling of Villegas's allure was when fans started asking well in advance of the 2006 tournament if a certain Gator would be there. He gave the kid one of his eight exemptions at the FBR Open, but Villegas didn't need it. He played his way in. Still a no-name, and without much status on Tour, he had the last tee time Friday afternoon, "that time of day when it's kind of quiet and people are flowing out of the golf course," Carbone said.
"We were up in the Blue Monster suites, and we hear this enormous roar," he continued. "And we all looked around like, What the heck was that? He'd made a birdie putt on number nine, his last hole, and the place just erupted. There were Columbian flags, the whole deal."
Weekly, a good old boy from the Florida panhandle who grew up playing against Bubba Watson, is good copy. (Boo's the guy who wears high-end sweatpants in lieu of slacks on the course.) Jose Coceres of Argentina, the fourth member of the Monday playoff, would have been a popular winner in some parts. But it's beyond argument that the star-making machinery is most in alignment for Villegas, ready to crank into high gear as soon as he wins. A couple of top-10s this week and next would get him to Miami. For Carbone and Finchem and the scrum of writers and producers and bloggers who chronicle the circus that is the Tour, that would be more than enough for now.