LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Camilo Villegas stopped getting angry with his golf game and started having more fun. The change of attitude paid off Thursday at Disney, and he can only hope it has come soon enough for him to keep his card.
Villegas ran off three straight birdies late in his round on the Palm Course for a 7-under 65, giving him a share of the early lead with Tommy Gainey in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, the final PGA Tour event of the year.
Disney is depleted of some of the top players, with only one from the top 50 in the world. Most of the attention — and tension — is toward the bottom of the money list.
Villegas is No. 150 on the list, a precarious place to be. Only the top 125 keep their full tour cards for next season, and if the Colombian were to fall out of the top 150, he would have to go to second stage of Q-school to try to get his card.
"Trust me, people remind you, 'Hey, you're 150th on the money list.' And I'm kind of like, 'Life is good. Just keep going.' If you're good at this game, if you're out, you'll be back in. Who knows? Just take it one shot at a time."
Gainey won three weeks ago at Sea Island by closing with a 60, and he's now 17 under in his last two rounds. He also played the Palm, which was 1.7 shots easier than the Magnolia, where the final two rounds are played. Gainey doesn't have much to gain this week, other than an additional year of being exempt. Even if he were to earn $846,000 for winning, it still wouldn't be enough to crack the top 30 and qualify for the Masters.
The group at 67 included Kevin Chappell, who is No. 123 on the money list and in jeopardy of going back to Q-school if three players pass him. Chappell, who played in the final group a year ago and tied for third, overcame an early bogey and was solid the rest of the way on the Palm.
"I feel like if you give me enough opportunities, which I've had, I've got to play well at least one week," Chappell said. "If it's the last week of the year, that's great."
Chappell is well aware of his standing on the money list, though he was doing his best to hit good shots and try to make putts. He changed coaches this year and was making decent progress until getting a six-week break when he failed to get past the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
"I got engrossed with the golf swing, and when I came back to the fall finish, I was playing golf swing. I wasn't playing golf," Chappell said.
The first two days of Disney are a pro-am, and it's common for some players to ask to be paired with friends — Mike Weir and Dean Wilson, Harris English and Brian Harman. A year ago, the tour put Luke Donald and Webb Simpson in the same group as they battled for the money title.
This year is a little different.
Rod Pampling is at No. 124 on the money list. He was paired with Billy Mayfair, who is at No. 125. Right behind them were Gary Christian and Alexandre Rocha, who are at No. 127 and No. 128 and right in the mix to keep their jobs.
Pampling opened with a 70 and Mayfair a 72. Christian and Rocha each had a 71.
"I was a bit surprised by that," Pampling said with a grin. "We're all grinding. ... You don't need the guys right behind you and next to you. But that's OK. Billy is easy to play with. And it's not going to change anything, anyway."
The biggest change belonged to Villegas.
He won back-to-back events in the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2008, going over $4.4 million in earnings and finishing the year at No. 7 in the world. He has fallen so far that Villegas didn't qualify for any of the majors this year and is No. 214 in the world.
At some point this year, he realized that he played golf for a living and figured it wasn't worth getting overly frustrated about his scores.
"The game comes and kind of bites us, and the last year and a half hasn't been pretty, I can tell you that," he said. "Even though I kept putting in the hours, sometimes it doesn't matter. You put those hours in and if you're not having fun, you're not going to get much out of it. So I've definitely changed a little bit the attitude. And, yes, I've been playing a lot better. ... I've had a great attitude the last few months and I've been really close."
The tough part will be going to the Magnolia course Friday, which didn't yield a score better than 68 among the early starters.