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John Rollins takes control at Torrey Pines

He passes Camilo Villegas early in the third round and leads by three shots.

February 08, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

LA JOLLA — If they were ponies at Del Mar rather than golfers at Torrey Pines, you'd call it one crazy horse race.

That muscle-toned colt Camilo Villegas had a yawning four-shot lead Friday to make the Buick Invitational apparently a referendum on himself, only to have things flip so drastically that somehow, that undervalued workhorse John Rollins had a yawning five-shot lead at one point Saturday to make it a measure of, well, Rollins.

So Rollins, who has lost 40 pounds in the last year -- "I'm not as tired after rounds" -- wound up 12 under par and three shots ahead of Villegas and saying, "I was surprised at a five-shot lead."

The inversion had been so heady that even with his four-foot lip-out and bogey on No. 18, Rollins could reason that "afternoon poa annua can tend to do that to you," as everyone knows it will.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, February 09, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Buick Invitational: A Sunday Sports article on the third round of the Buick Invitational golf tournament said third-round leader John Rollins had won two tournaments, both in Canada. One was in New York state.

And so a tournament all about an 11th-ranked Colombian-turned-Floridian (Villegas) who won huge tournaments in Missouri and Georgia last September, came to be about a 199th-ranked Virginian-turned-Texan (Rollins) who at 33 has won two tournaments from behind and only on Canadian soil.

"Yeah, this will be a little different for me," Rollins said, as well as a little different for a tournament after four straight years of clarity -- Tiger Woods leads, everybody else follows -- that has yielded to a hodgepodge.

Despite San Diego's maddening insistence upon having a winter -- "rain gear on, rain gear off, rain gear on, rain gear off," Villegas said -- some other people weren't quite done. The 27-year-old Sacramento native Nick Watney, who shot 71 and called the windy Saturday "all about survival," lurked five shots behind Rollins and two behind Villegas. One behind Watney sat Paul Goydos, returning after a family tragedy, and Luke Donald, the Englishman who finished runner-up here in 2004 and 2005.

Having Phil Mickelson fail to menace at 11 shots back and Padraig Harrington fail to contend at 15 shots back has only added to the mire.

Still, nothing looked unclear about Rollins' game Friday and on the front nine Saturday, when he treated the South Course as if Rees Jones had redesigned it with an air of benevolence.

Hidden seven shots behind Villegas at Friday breakfast, Rollins came roaring out of the masses by playing his next 27 holes across two days in a superhuman 12 under, even with that rude closing bogey Friday on his final hole. He thrived even with the distraction of the first tee shot Saturday from playing partner Charley Hoffman, a local favorite from Poway High.

The ball, evidently weary, nestled in a pine tree, and Hoffman teed off again.

When Rollins thwacked a six-iron 200 yards out of the bunker to set up a birdie on No. 4, he grabbed the lead. When he parred No. 9 while witnessing Villegas hitting it all around the joint toward a double-bogey 7, he assumed a five-shot lead.

Villegas gathered himself to preserve a not-so-bad 74 and scratch back two shots while Rollins three-putted three back-nine holes but stayed happy through a healthy respect for the poa annua.

"I'm the most pleased with the way that I've controlled my emotions, the way I've handled myself through the course of the rounds," said Rollins, second to Hoffman in a Bob Hope Chrysler Classic playoff in 2007. "You know, I've never really gotten ahead of myself. . . . I've really just not beat myself up about not making a six-foot birdie putt that may bounce off line or something like that."

He had teed off Saturday as the anonymous golfer in the threesome that included Villegas, whose one-armed push-ups for reading putts constitute a fan attraction, and Hoffman, with his long blond hair and his family and friends in attendance.

By the end, though, Hoffman and Villegas had 74s while Rollins had 70 on a day with only three rounds in the 60s. "It was definitely a two-man fight in the gallery's eyes," he said, and yet in the tournament without the man every gallery wants to follow, the barely noticed man who missed four cuts in eight previous Buicks and shot 82 on Sunday in 2008 will start today ahead by three.

Clearly you never know out there, at least until the ultimate front-runner comes back.

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Buick Invitational

AT LA JOLLA

Torrey Pines North and South

Par 72

THIRD-ROUND LEADERS

John Rollins...70n-64s-70s 204

Camilo Villegas...63n-70s-74s 207

Nick Watney...69n-69s-71s 209

Luke Donald...70s-69n-71s 210

Paul Goydos...72s-66n-72s 210

Charles Warren...74n-69s-68s 211

Lucas Glover...69n-73s-69s 211

Charley Hoffman...71s-66n-74s 211

Aaron Baddeley...66n-76s-70s 212

J.J. Henry...70n-71s-71s 212

George McNeill...71s-70n-71s 212

Mathew Goggin...69s-70n-73s 212

Ben Crane...69n-74s-70s 213

Jeff Klauk...71n-73s-69s 213

J.B. Holmes...73s-70n-71s 214

Bill Haas...72s-70n-72s 214

Marc Leishman...74s-68n-72s 214

Nathan Green...70s-72n-72s 214

Harrison Frazar...69n-70s-75s 214

n-North course s-South course

(final two rounds on South course)

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