Ex-Gators to tee off with Wie

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 8:54 p.m.


AT A GLANCE: Sony Open

  • TV: 6:30-9 p.m. (ESPN)
  • COURSE: Waialae Country Club (7,060 yards, par 70)

  • For Chris Couch, today's Sony Open in Honolulu represents the third start to a PGA Tour season. For Camillo Villegas, he's hoping it's the first.
    For both former Gator golfers, they know they will be sidebars at best when the 8:40 a.m. pairing goes off the 10th tee at Waialae Country Club.
    Couch and Villegas, All-Americans at UF almost 10 years apart, are scheduled to play their first tournament of the new season today in the pairing with teenage sensation Michelle Wie, who has a sponsors exemption into the event for the third year in a row.
    The 16-year old Wie, playing her seventh men's event but her first as a professional, won't quite receive the attention she did when she played in the men's tournament as a 14 year old, but plenty of people will be watching.
    And that's just fine with Couch. "I'm looking forward to it," Couch said. "I knew she was playing, and I thought it'd be pretty cool if I got paired with her. I'm looking for a sponsorship for my bag, and it would be good to get some TV time."
    Couch and Villegas both qualified for the Tour this season by finishing in the top 15 on the Nationwide Tour last season.
    The two former Gators both live in Gainesville and play often during breaks from their schedules.
    Unfortunately for Villegas, he may have to wait to begin his first season on Tour. Villegas tore the nail on his left thumb this week, and it has become infected. He visited two doctors and finally ended up at the office of a Honolulu surgeon on Wednesday afternoon where the thumb was drained.
    "I have no clue whether I'll be able to play or not," he said. "Right now, I don't think so. Hopefully, it will feel better in the morning. I was looking forward to playing with Michelle, but we'll have to see.
    "This is not the start I wanted, but it's only one tournament."
    Wie has yet to make the cut in two appearances in the tournament that is played in her home state. But since turning professional, she has signed endorsement contracts that will pay her $5 million annually.
    Her presence at a men's event has brought interest and controversy to the game of golf. It was in 2003 that Annika Sorenstam played in the Colonial to become the first woman to play a PGA Tour event since Babe Zaharias in 1945.
    "I was hitting balls on the range the other day next to her, and she swings it really good," Couch said. "She's a lot bigger than I thought. She has a lot of power. I'm excited about it and I'm excited about getting back on Tour. My adrenaline was pumping as soon as I landed (in Hawaii)."
    You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.

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