VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — Camilo Villegas apparently likes the skins game format.
The rising Colombian star won a chipoff Tuesday against Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink, and Notah Begay III to walk away with top money at the inaugural Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge at Turning Stone Resort’s Atunyote Golf Club.
Villegas’ winning pitch on the extra hole of the skins game competition boosted his earnings for the day to $220,000. Singh won two holes to finish with $180,000, and Cink finished with one skin worth $100,000 from the total purse of $500,000.
The event, a collaboration between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of California, is an effort to aide Native American youth and their communities.
“We’re lucky to do what we do,” said Villegas, who won more than $200,000 at the two-day World Skins Game in June in Canada. “If we get a chance to help make an impact on a kid’s life, that’s why we’re here.”
The first six holes were worth $10,000 apiece, the second six $20,000, holes 13 through 17 were worth $50,000 each, and No. 18 was worth $70,000.
It was tough to score a skin despite picture-perfect weather with temperatures in the mid-70s. When Villegas hit a 250-yard fairway shot to within a foot of the pin at the par-5 fifth hole to set up an easy eagle, Weir nullified it with an 18-foot eagle putt.
“I felt like I played pretty good,” Weir said. “But that’s skins. You’ve got to time it right.”
Singh, fresh from his win Sunday at The Barclays, the Fedex Cup playoff opener, scored the lone skin on the front nine, making birdie at the 414-yard par-4 fourth hole. After Begay’s birdie putt lipped out and Villegas’ short downhill birdie try stopped 2 inches short of the hole, Singh stepped up and calmly drained a 6-foot putt worth $40,000.
Weir nearly aced the 185-yard, par-3 sixth hole, and when Singh matched his birdie Weir muttered, “Make enough money last week?”
All five had a chance at $80,000 on No. 9 and all five missed makeable putts. The pot rose to $140,000 at the par-5 12th hole, a slight dogleg right with a massive, 13-acre water hazard lining the right side of the fairway. Singh was the only player to reach the green in two shots, and when his second shot landed within 4 feet of the pin, he easily scored his second skin despite missing the eagle putt.
Three holes later, Villegas finally broke through, draining a pretty 15-foot pitch-and-run from the back fringe at No. 15 for $150,000 as the gallery of about 2,000 cheered.
“It wasn’t pretty with the putter,” Villegas said. “I kept hitting good shots, and then I chipped one in. That’s the way golf goes. I kept telling my caddie, ‘Man, we’ve played pretty good today. We’ve been pretty much in every hole with a chance to do something special.’ And somebody tops me. I top somebody. Then, coming down the stretch I hit some good shots and got a couple of good breaks.”
Cink, erratic all day, captured his lone skin at the par-4 17th hole, sinking a downhill putt from 16 feet for birdie.
When nobody won at 17 or 18, all five had one pitch downhill at No. 18 for the final prize, and Villegas’ shot stopped closest to the pin – 58 inches – for $70,000.
The Notah Begay III Foundation was established in 2005 to create sustainable programs that are designed by Native Americans for Native American youth. The NB3 Challenge was the foundation’s first national event.
At the award ceremony afterward, Singh thanked Begay for organizing the competition and announced he would donate $80,000 of his earnings to the foundation, which also received a $100,000 contribution from the day’s festivities.
Begay, the only Native American player on the PGA Tour, was clearly touched.
“It brought me to tears,” Begay said. “I had to compose myself. Guys don’t have to do that. It’s just a reflection on who he (Singh) is as a person. He understands and respects what we’re trying to get done.”
About the only thing missing was Tiger Woods, Begay’s college roommate at Stanford. Woods had committed to playing before he was sidelined for the season with a knee injury.
“He’s never played a fundraising event. This was going to be his first one ever,” Begay said. “I think that speaks to the amount of respect he has for our friendship. We’ve been together now for over 20 years.
“I suspect there’s a tremendous chance he’ll be on the property next year, but the most important thing is that he gets his knee back where he wants to.”