Camilo Villegas once was a top-10 golfer in the world. Matt Jones ranked 33rd on the PGA Tour a year ago.
Yet they are among 22 former PGA Tour champions in Boise this week, a reminder of how fragile success is on the golf course and how deep the competition is for the coveted spots on the world’s most lucrative golf tour.
The $1 million Boise Open is Thursday through Sunday at Hillcrest.
“I am excited to be here — just giving myself an opportunity to play good again,” Villegas said Tuesday while practicing his putting for the Albertsons Boise Open. “Is it ideal? No. We all want to play on the PGA Tour. ... I’ve had 11 great years there. I’ve been very fortunate, and sometimes it’s good to get a little taste of reality. It’s a little more real life out here.”
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He broke a slump with a win at the 2014 Wyndham Championship, but the resulting two-year exemption into tour events expired this season. He finished 152nd in the FedExCup standings — he didn’t crack the top 10 in an event all season — and only the top 125 retain full playing status for the next season.
The Boise Open is the second leg in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals. The 25 players who earn the most money during the series go to the PGA Tour for the 2016-17 season that begins next month.
“It’s a tough game we choose to play for a living,” Villegas, 34, said. “Hopefully we can play good the next three weeks and then get back out there, because I truly believe that’s where I belong.”
Villegas finished second in the FedExCup standings in 2008. He finished in the top 45 each of the next three years but has finished outside the top 80 four of the past five years.
He missed the cut last week in his finals debut. It was his first start on the Web.com Tour in 11 years.
“Everybody is good. Every tour. There’s no time to blink,” he said. “When you do, you put yourself in the position where I am now. It’s the sum of little things.”
The struggles have taken a toll mentally.
“You lose a little confidence, and you maybe don’t enjoy the game as much throughout the middle of the season, just because nobody likes to play bad,” Villegas said.
“When things are going good, it’s easy to be excited. When things are going bad, it’s a lot easier to knock yourself down and put yourself in a position where emotionally it’s not the right place to be.”
Jones, 36, won the 2014 Shell Houston Open and just missed qualifying for the 30-man Tour Championship last year.
He finished 126th in the FedExCup standings this season, one spot away from retaining his card. Like Villegas, his two-year exemption for his win expired.
Jones previously finished 127th in 2008, 126th in 2009 and 127th in 2011, so he’s accustomed to heartbreak on the bubble. Each of those times, he was able to keep his PGA Tour card — but that was before the tour created the Web.com Tour Finals to replace Q-School as the route to the PGA Tour.
Jones, who played the Web.com Tour in 2002 and from 2004-07, withdrew last week because of a sore back. He says he’s healthy enough to make a run at the top 25 in the finals.
He’ll be able to get into some PGA Tour events next season but can’t control his schedule without earning a tour card through the finals. The difference in status is “a lot,” he said.
“If it wasn’t too much, I might not be here, but I can improve it a lot, where I can play every event I want to next year, excluding majors and (World Golf Championship events),” he said. “I’ve got to be here. I wish I was playing better, but I can always turn it around. Golf can change very quickly.”
Jones’ past two seasons are proof of that — falling nearly 100 spots in the standings.
“I putted absolutely horrendously all year,” he said. “I got what I deserved.”
He hopes to deserve better in a few weeks. He knows it won’t be easy.
“There are so many good golfers out here,” Jones said, “that it’s tough to get back out there.”
Jones’ Idaho connection
Matt Jones’ wife, Melissa, is a former Miss Idaho from Eagle. They met through a mutual friend who worked at tour events. They’re staying with family this week and will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary Sunday. “We always enjoy coming here,” said Jones, who is from Australia. “It’s a great place, and the town loves the golf tournament, so I’m looking forward to it.”