A youth movement
Woods has noticed Kim, Villegas shooting to top
KAPALUA, Hawaii - Tiger Woods sometimes will glance over his shoulder on his highway to history, not worried about anyone on his bumper but curious to see what the traffic looks like behind him.
He noticed Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas when they effectively were still learning to drive.
Villegas was still a raw but talented rookie when he livened up the Miami crowd and finished second to Woods three years ago at Doral. Kim joined the Tour a year later, mostly making news with his mouth, but showing enough game to get the attention of golf's best player.
Woods had a clear view of their potential while recovering from two knee surgeries last year.
Kim broke Woods's scoring record at the
Villegas took baby steps until bursting through with victories in the BMW Championship and Tour Championship - both won by Woods the previous year - to finish second in the
"You knew that was coming, their talent," Woods said last month. "That was just a matter of time before they broke through and won events. To see the young guys playing better only is going to make it . . . more difficult to win events."
The question is whether their time is now.
Kim and Villegas, two players who emerged during Woods's absence, will be paired together in the second-to-last group when the 2009 season gets under way today at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, a winners-only field of 33 players missing the top four from the world ranking.
"I've been looking forward to this tournament for a long time," said the 23-year-old Kim. "I feel like I've come a long way with my game and my attitude. And, hopefully, if I can just stay on this roll, I feel like I've turned a corner. And if I can just keep my head down and stay focused, I'm going to be in good shape for this year."
Villegas, the Colombian who turned 27 yesterday, will be going for his third straight PGA Tour victory while trying to forget the enormous success he had at the end of last year.
"It was a great finish to the year," he said. "But [today], we start from zero."
Woods is still recovering from knee surgery and won't play for at least another two months, perhaps enough time to lose his No. 1 ranking to Sergio Garcia, who turns 29 this week and arguably played better than anyone over the last nine months. Garcia is skipping Kapalua because he is home in Spain and is playing next week in Abu Dhabi. Also missing is British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who is taking his winter break; and Phil Mickelson, who stopped coming to Kapalua in 2002.
Defending champion Daniel Chopra will play with FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh. Zach Johnson, the former Masters champion, was talking about Kim as a young player who is "up and coming" until he stopped himself in mid-sentence and smiled.
"I shouldn't say 'up-and-coming.' He's here," Johnson said. "He's established himself. But he's one of those kids that could really take golf to another level."
Along with his two victories on two of the better golf courses, Kim really made a name for himself at the Ryder Cup with his fearless play, boundless energy, and 5-and-4 thumping of Garcia in the leadoff singles match.
"He's got the swagger, he's got all the tools," Woods said. "It's just a matter of him working hard and continuing to improve."
Born in Los Angeles of Korean heritage, Kim brought the smack of LA streets to the genteel sport of golf, and rubbed plenty of people the wrong way with his brash talk. But now, Kim tries to keep it simple and quiet. And even as he appears on the cover of more magazines, he appears grounded.
"It's hard not to notice, but at the same time, it doesn't affect me in the least bit," Kim said of the attention. "And the reason is, I've always thought that I was able to achieve some pretty high, lofty goals.
"Hopefully, if I just stay on the right path, I'll have a pretty bright future."