SAN DIEGO (AP) — Camilo Villegas survived the South Course at Torrey Pines to keep the lead.
John Rollins thrived on it.
After starting the Buick Invitational by matching a career best with a 63 on the easier North Course, Villegas began the second round in a steady rain on a course that last year hosted the U.S. Open. Knowing the difficulty of the course and the conditions of the day, his hope was simply to keep it around par, maybe even better. And that’s what he did.
He holed one from off the 11th green – his fifth straight birdie on a par 3 – dropped only one shot, picked up birdies on two of the par 5s and wound up with a 2-under 70 to reach 11-under 133, an ominous score on a dreary Friday at the Buick Invitational.
It looked as though this might be another runaway, just like last year when Tiger Woods built a four-shot lead going into the weekend. Rollins, who started an hour after Villegas, was wondering the same thing.
“I was just trying to get myself in position to be in one of the last couple of groups, at least be right there in the middle of the golf tournament going into the weekend,” Rollins said. “I really wasn’t out there saying, ‘OK, I need to get to 11 (under),’ because the South Course is so difficult that it’s hard to do that.”
Rollins shot a 64 to finish one shot behind, and he somehow made it look easy.
He knocked it a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 2, and holed another putt from about the same distance two holes later. From the middle of the fifth fairway, 123 yards away from a pin tucked perilously to the left and the wind in his face, Rollins hit a 9-iron that landed beyond the hole and spun back into the cup for an eagle.
He followed that with a bunker shot to 6 feet for birdie on the par-5 sixth, an 18-foot par save on the seventh, a tee shot to 3 feet for yet another birdie on the eighth.
Suddenly, Rollins was tied for the lead with the par-5 ninth remaining.
“I did not know the course record,” he said. “I was just told that Tiger holds the course record at 9 under, or something like that. I would hate to take anything away from Tiger, so I figured I’d better make bogey, not birdie.”
Rollins already has given Woods plenty. It was five years ago when he had the world’s No. 1 player on the ropes in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, 1 up with two holes to play, when Woods birdied the last two holes and went on to win his only PGA Tour event of the 2004 season.
Woods shot a 62 on the South Course in 1999, when he won the Buick Invitational. But that was before Rees Jones got his hands on the public course and stretched it to over 7,600 yards in advance of last year’s U.S. Open.
On the super-sized South, the record is 63 by Greg Chalmers in the final round in 2000.
No matter. Rollins found the rough, hacked out and still had 200 yards remaining into the wind. He hit 5-iron into a bunker, knocked it out to 5 feet and missed the putt.
“Mentally, you think even par is a good round,” Rollins said. “I just came out and made some putts, made a couple of long ones you don’t really expect to make, kind of built on that as the round progressed. I started to hit the ball a little bit better and continued to make the putts and got out of there with 8 under.”
Got out of there with 8 under? Sounds like he was more satisfied than elated.
“It doesn’t happen real often you can say, ‘I got out of the South Course with an 8 under,”‘ he said with a smile. “But today, everything kind of worked out well for me.”
He wound up in the last group with Villegas, joined by Charley Hoffman, the San Diego native coming off a playoff loss last week in the FBR Open. Hoffman had a 66 on the North Course and was four shots out of the lead at 7-under 137.
The group at 138 included Paul Goydos, who wasn’t planning to play the Buick Invitational.
Goydos learned two weeks ago that his ex-wife had died, and he said he would take a break from the PGA Tour to be with his two daughters, for whom he had full custody. He said he did not want to talk about his family yet, preferring to answer questions only about his golf and his chances on the weekend.
“I’m not overly excited about playing long ball with Camilo on the South Course the next two days. There’s really not much advantage for me there,” Goydos said. “But I’m just happy to be playing well, and happy to be playing on the weekend.”
Phil Mickelson, coming off a missed cut at the FBR Open, also is playing the weekend, although not as close to the lead as he would like. The three-time winner at Torrey Pines made three bogeys on the par 5s at the North Course for a 72, leaving him at 2-under 142.
Padraig Harrington, at No. 3 the highest-ranked player in the Buick Invitational, went 13 holes without a birdie until holing a 15-footer at No. 5 on the South Course, raising his arms in mock triumph. He had a 74 and was at 145.
Eighty-five players made the cut, which was 2-over 146.
Villegas and Rollins got to the top of the leaderboard going a different rout – the 27-year-old Colombian took advantage of the North and was steady enough on the South; Rollins shot 70 on the North and lit up the South.
“Obviously, you want to hit a lot of fairways and try to keep it as simple as you can,” Villegas said. “I did completely the opposite today, so then you’ve got to work hard, be creative and get it up-and-down somehow, which I did.”