Villegas still leads at Honda Classic

Camilo Villegas came back to the pack on his back nine and wound up

rallying to take a three-shot lead over Nathan Green and Vijay

Singh after three rounds of the Honda Classic on Saturday.

Villegas was at 11-under 199, so even after making three

bogeys in a five-hole span in what became a round of 67, he’ll be

the one to catch on Sunday.

“I’m sleeping in my own bed this week, which is always nice,”

said Villegas, one of many tour players who call South Florida

home. “I’ve been nice and relaxed. So we’ll show up tomorrow the

same way and try to play some good golf.”

Green (67) and Singh (69) are at 8 under, while George

McNeill (66) and Matt Every (69) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Anthony Kim, who shared the 36-hole lead with Villegas, shot 73 and

wound up six shots back entering the final round, tied with Michael

Connell (69).

It’s not over, Villegas quickly pointed out.

“Golf tournaments are four days,” Villegas said. “So with

that said, you’ve got to put four good rounds together and see what

happens at the end.”

All the talk before the tournament was about the difficulty

of the course, before conversations on Thursday shifted to the

gusting breezes and how they left players guessing.

On Saturday, a controlled burn left its mark on the Honda.

Earth, wind and fire, indeed.

A planned fire in Jonathan Dickinson State Park, about 14

miles (20 kilometers) north of PGA National Resort and Spa, made an

already tough course even tougher. The wind shifted a bit after the

fire started, sending thick plumes of smoke, ash and haze down

directly toward the course. Play wasn’t halted, though the day was

clearly affected.

“It’s not great, but everyone’s dealing with it,” said Green,

an asthmatic who once worked in a crematorium his parents manage.

“It’s strange when you’re looking down, hitting your putt and

you’ve got ashes sort of going past your ball. We had that a few

holes in, I think on 13 and 14. It’s different. I don’t think guys

are really worried about it. You can just sort of smell it and

taste it.”

Singh shot his third straight round in the 60s, a 69 to keep

him in the mix for what would be his first win since capturing the

FedExCup in 2008.

“It’s not going to be easy for nobody tomorrow,” Singh said.

“I’m just going to go out and play solid, try not to make too many

mistakes. If you can keep the mistakes to a minimum, I think you’ll

be OK.”

Also with a third-straight sub-70 round was Sam Saunders, who

shot his third straight 69 and was tied for 10th, eight shots

behind Villegas.

His coach wasn’t expected to be with him on Sunday. Saunders’

coach was his grandfather, Arnold Palmer. “The King” knows that if

he’s in the gallery on Sunday, the buzz he’ll create – on a course

redesigned by Jack Nicklaus – might take away from what his

grandkid is trying to do inside the ropes, so Saunders thinks he’ll

stay away.

“Hopefully, someday, and I’ve said this many times before,

that my game will become good enough and I’ll become a good enough

player that I’ll be known as Sam Saunders and Arnold Palmer’s

grandson,” Saunders said. “I think I’m getting there, but right

now, it’s fine. If I’m Arnold Palmer’s grandson, that’s kind of the

deal. I understand that.”

Villegas made four birdies on the front side – including the

par-4 6th hole, the tournament’s toughest this week, for the second

straight day. And after a bogey at the 10th seemed to derail him a

bit, Villegas rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on the next hole,

punching the air as the putt dropped.

Villegas had only four top-10 finishes in 21 tour starts last

season, after winning back-to-back starts in September 2008 and

thinking he was ready for a big breakthrough.

Maybe this is the year. So far in 2010, he was third at Match

Play and then tied for eighth last week at the Phoenix Open.

“We have our good years, average years and bad years,”

Villegas said. “I decided to look at the good side of it and work

on those little things that I needed to get better, and show up

this year a little more excited to be out here.”

A win and a $1.008 million check on Sunday would make him

very excited.