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Villegas and Kim have Tiger in their sights

The hotly anticipated return of Tiger Woods to competitive golf is likely to be the year's biggest storyline, but young guns Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas are certain to command some of the limelight.

The twenty-somethings broke into the top flight by winning twice on last year's PGA Tour and are widely regarded as significant forces in the game for years to come.

Both are supremely confident in their respective abilities and would dearly love to become world number one but neither expects Woods to relinquish his grip at the top any time soon.

"He knows exactly what he needs to do," Colombian Villegas told reporters of Woods during the build-up to this week's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Villegas, who celebrates his 27th birthday on Jan. 7, expects Woods to return in top shape.

"He's going to come back healthy and he's going to keep winning golf tournaments. And at the same time, I've got my own goals and I just want to win golf tournaments.

"I'll do everything I need to do to improve myself and if it (becoming number one) ever happens, I'll be very, very happy," added Villegas, who won the last two playoff events on the 2008 PGA Tour.

"But we've got Tiger up there, who has been No. 1 for a long time. If he's healthy, I think he will come out here and continue to play great and win golf tournaments."

Woods has not played competitively since winning the U.S. Open in June, clinching his 14th major title before ending his 2008 campaign to have reconstructive knee surgery.

The timing of his return has been the subject of much speculation, with the likeliest scenario a comeback at the March 12-15 WGC-CA Championship in Miami to help him prepare for the Masters in April.

Like world number seven Villegas, American Kim does not expect Woods to have lost any of his dominance after more than six months on the sidelines.

"He's obviously the best player in the world and nobody is taking that away from him right now," the 23-year-old said. "I'm going to do my best to keep grinding and working towards that goal."

He was amused by the idea of Woods gaining extra motivation from reading that Kim, Villegas and Sergio Garcia were his likeliest challengers for global supremacy.

"I'm sure he's motivated," said 12th-ranked Kim, who won his first PGA Tour titles at last year's Wachovia Championship and the AT&T National.

"He's a funny guy and I'm sure he sees it, but he's not too worried. Obviously, he shouldn't be right now. What he's done is unbelievable.

"We're just trying to grind and when the ball gets teed up and you need to make that putt, I think a couple of us will be more prepared than we were when he left."

As PGA Tour champions last year, Kim and Villegas were both delighted to be making their debuts in the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship at the Kapalua Resort.

"I've been looking forward to this tournament for a long time," Kim said. "I feel like I've come a long way with my game and my attitude. If I can just keep my head down and stay focused, I'm going to be in good shape for this year."

Villegas added: "I feel good, I feel confident and I'm excited but I have some work to do in 2009. I accomplished a lot of my own personal goals last year but every Thursday we start from zero."

January 6, 2009

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