Vegas poised to reach $2 million barrier faster than Tiger
SAN DIEGO |
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas has made one of the most explosive starts ever on the PGA Tour and is on track to eclipse Tiger Woods as the fastest player to earn $2 million in prize money.
The 26-year-old stunned the golfing world by winning this month's Bob Hope Classic in only his fifth appearance on the U.S. circuit and he followed that with an ice-cool display at last week's Farmers Insurance Open, where he tied for third.
Many had expected the long-hitting Venezuelan rookie to fade at Torrey Pines, where he had to contend with big names such as Woods and Phil Mickelson as well as huge crowds, but he rose to the occasion with a mature and exciting display.
Vegas doggedly remained in the title hunt during Sunday's final round before his bold bid for a second consecutive PGA Tour title ended when he dumped his second shot into water at the par-five last.
He finished with a bogey for a four-under-par 68, his fourth successive sub-70 round in challenging conditions at Torrey Pines.
"This has been so much fun," Vegas told Reuters after ending a memorable week at the spectacular coastal venue where he played with Woods for the first time in the third round.
"I'm really enjoying the moment, and loving everything about the PGA Tour. It's been a little crazy. It's just a dream come true for me. I'm playing pretty good golf right now."
His tie for third place at 13-under 275 earned Vegas a cheque for $336,400, lifting him to the top of the tour's money list with season's earnings of $1,248,280.
Overall, Vegas has accumulated $1,294,591 from just five tour starts, putting him well on course to break the record set by Woods, who raced past the $2 million barrier in 16 events.
For the moment, though, the ever-smiling Vegas is more concerned about becoming a better player.
"I just try to develop my game as good as it can be," said the beefy Venezuelan, who signaled his rich potential when he cruised to a six-shot victory over Andres Romero at last year's Argentine Open.
"Tiger has an incredible short game and he hits the ball great and he putts great. So just by seeing that, I keep telling myself that I have to develop my game completely and I put everything on a high level."
Vegas, who booked his place on the PGA Tour by finishing seventh in the 2010 Nationwide Tour money list, has already made a significant impact on Woods and Farmers Insurance Open champion Bubba Watson.
"He's a really nice kid," said Woods, who was outscored by Vegas to the tune of five shots in Saturday's third round.
"He had a couple of loose shots here and there, but he recovered well. He had a lot of patience."
American left-hander Watson, who played with Vegas in the final round at Torrey Pines, agreed.
"He's a rookie, but his mind was so good," Watson said after triumphing by one shot. "His golf swing is really good. If he had putted a little better today or hit a couple more iron shots, he would have won.
"He's a great player and he's great to have for the game. Hopefully he can help golf in his home country there."
Vegas, who has rocketed 118 places to 69th in the world rankings over the last two weeks, is the first and only PGA Tour player from Venezuela.
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)
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