One would have expected for Camilo Villegas to be nervous about trying to win for the first time in nine years. But no, there he was coming down the stretch, hitting chippy, cut drivers and insane sand shots with the 2023 Butterfield Bermuda Championship on the line.
In the end, his 65 on Sunday -- including a crazy good bunker save birdie at the 71st hole -- was enough to get to 24 under as Villegas beat Alex Noren by two and Matti Schmid by three. It is Villegas' fifth PGA Tour victory, but his first since the 2014 Wyndham Championship.
A lot has happened since 2014. He got married and had two children. One of them, his 2-year-old daughter Mia, died of cancer in July 2020. Villegas and his wife, Maria, have been open about their journey and struggle, and Villegas was poignant after today's round.
"I love this game," he told Golf Channel. "This game has given me so many great things, but in the process, it kicks your butt. Life has given me so many great things, and in the process, it kicks my butt."
Villegas was Rickie Fowler before Rickie Fowler. A four-time All-American at Florida, he won early and often in his PGA Tour career, taking both the Tour Championship and BMW Championship and nearly swiping a Players Championship as well. He was young, good-looking, immensely talented and successful at a time where it was not always a given that young players would be successful.
After seven years, though, his game started to drop a bit, and even though he won that 2014 Wyndham, he has only had one positive strokes gained season since 2010. Still, Villegas battled. He played Korn Ferry Tour events -- not particularly well, but he kept playing and kept believing (or at least kept trying to believe) even when it was not easy.
"It's unbelievable to be honest," added Villegas. "It feels unbelievable. Nine years, nine years where you kind of stop believing at times, but I never stopped waking up early and putting in the work. Life is interesting, it goes up and down both on the personal side and on the professional side. Just got to keep a path, and you've got to keep your mind where it needs to be. Like I said, I'm a hard worker. I love working. I love having a purpose every morning and that's kind of what I did."
Last week, at age 41, after making a swing change earlier this year, Villegas finished T2 at the World Wide Technology Championship. It was his first top 10 on the PGA Tour since the 2021 Honda Classic. And the belief grew. Villegas said he must have received 500 text messages last week after nearly winning in Mexico. Surely that buoyed him this week as he tried to hold off Noren and Schmid.
Villegas noted that he had signed up for Q-School and was headed there if not for the last two weeks. Now, he's in next year's Masters.
His is a story of extraordinary personal perseverance but also personal perseverance. Villegas was ranked outside the top 700 in the world going into 2023. And yet, one golfer has beaten him over the course of the last two weeks, his PGA Tour status is now secure again, and he have opened up all sort of opportunities for himself that were nonexistent a few weeks ago.
Villegas' quote from earlier (said a different way) is this: In the process, it kicks your butt, but this game has given me so many great things.