Kim, Villegas try to move closer to the top of the heap on the PGA Tour

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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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 energized 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 golfs best player.

Woods had a clear view of their potential while recovering from two knee surgeries last year.

Kim broke Woods scoring record at the Wachovia Championship with a five-shot victory, then won Woods tournament with a 65 at Congressional in the AT&T National. He was sixth on the PGA Tour money list and moved up 63 spots to No. 12 in the world ranking.

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 FedEx Cup and move up 49 spots to No. 7 in the world.

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 absence, will be paired together in the second-to-last group when the 2009 season gets under way Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, a winners-only field of 33 players missing the top four from the world ranking.

Ive been looking forward to this tournament for a long time, said the 23-year-old Kim. I feel like Ive come a long way with my game and my attitude.

And hopefully, if I can just stay on this roll, I feel like Ive turned a corner. And if I can just keep my head down and stay focused, Im going to be in good shape for this year.

Villegas, the Colombian who turned 27 on Wednesday, 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 on Thursday, we start from zero.

Woods is still recovering from knee surgery and wont 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.



Geographic location: Miami

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