ST. LOUIS (AP) — The final putt was the easiest one Camilo Villegas faced on the back nine of Bellerive, and when he rapped in the 2-foot par, he straightened his back, closed his eyes and tilted his head to the blue sky above.
His wire-to-wire victory in the BMW Championship seemed overdue, even though the 26-year-old Colombian is finishing up his third year on the PGA Tour.
Handed star treatment early because of his fashion model looks, chic clothing and “Spider-Man” style of reading putts on the green, he was growing impatient as other players in their 20s – Anthony Kim, J.B. Holmes, Sean O’Hair – piled up victories. Villegas believed winning was a process, and it finally arrived Sunday in St. Louis.
“It’s awesome to be here, and I’m sure when I get a chance to spend a little time with myself, it’s going to really sink in,” Villegas said after closing with a 2-under 68 for a two-shot victory. “And there’s going to be a lot of memories of this week and of the past and how hard I’ve worked and how hard I’ve battled.”
He could have been talking about his journey from Colombia, earning a business degree at Florida while grappling to learn a new language, then becoming the first player from his country to win on the PGA Tour.
Or he could have been talking about Sunday.
Villegas finished at 15-under 265 for a two-shot victory over Dudley Hart. But it was hard work.
He returned at 7:30 a.m. to a light drizzle and had to play five holes to finish the third round, where a 12-foot par save and a birdie putt from the same length allowed him to complete a 66 and take a one-shot lead over Jim Furyk.
Then came the self-doubts, mostly from his putting.
Villegas gave up the lead when he missed three straight putts inside 8 feet, twice taking bogey, to fall behind. He regained the lead when Furyk dropped two shots around the turn.
But the defining moment came at No. 12.
Villegas, who had a one-shot lead, drove into a poor lie in a fairway bunker and had to play short of the green. He hit wedge to 12 feet below the hole, as Furyk had 15 feet for birdie.
Furyk narrowly missed, and Villegas poured in his par putt.
One hole later, order was restored. Furyk made bogey from a bunker on the par-3 13th, while Villegas took another aggressive line and made a 10-footer for birdie, suddenly stretching his lead to three.
Then came a 35-foot birdie on the 14th, and Villegas was on his way.
“It was a pretty good little stretch there that just tested my nerves and showed myself that I was good enough to stay out there,” Villegas said.
The last challenge came from Kim, a 23-year-old who has won twice this year. He made consecutive birdies to pull within two shots, but couldn’t make another birdie, clearing the stage for Villegas.
“Camilo played great,” Kim said. “He deserved it, made some key putts when it counted, and overall he just handled himself beautifully out there.”
Kim closed with a 67 and tied for third with Furyk, who shot a 70.
Villegas finally showed enough game to match his growing fame. He is a marketing dream with his style in fashion and reading putts, and it showed in his television interview, half of which was spent naming his sponsors.
A victory puts his image in a different light.
“Right now, I’m just happy to be here,” he said. “I’m just excited I finally got my first win. I’ve been working my butt off just to be here, and it’s here.”
Hart had reason to be happy, too.
He finished with two straight birdies for a 65 that paid many dividends. It was his best finish in four years, and he earned two trips to Georgia – the Tour Championship next week and the Masters in April.
Hart began the BMW Championship at No. 67 in the FedEx Cup standings after missing the cut in Boston. But he moved up 53 spots to No. 14, earning his way into the final round of these PGA Tour Playoffs.
Hart saw that he was tied for third as he stood in the 18th green. He turned to his caddie and said if one person passed him, he was out of the top 30.
“I basically told him, ‘Birdie or bogey.’ I said, ‘Let’s try to give this thing a run,”’ Hart said. “It was one of those things where I was going to give it a run and hit the best putt I could. And fortunately, it went in.”
The volatile points system introduced this year brought some fresh faces to East Lake for what once was the tour’s All-Star game for the top 30 players on the money list. Among those who advanced to the final round of the playoffs were Kevin Sutherland, Ken Duke, Tim Clark and Bubba Watson.
The FedEx Cup was about the only thing Villegas did not want to talk about.
Strangely, enough, neither did Vijay Singh, who only has to play four rounds at East Lake to collect $10 million. He was so grateful that he refused an interview with NBC Sports and ignored a group of other media after his round.
Villegas, who earned $1.26 million to go over $3 million for the season, moved to No. 2 in the standings. The only way he can win the trophy from this “New Era in Golf” is to win the Tour Championship and for Singh to get disqualified or withdraw and receive no points.