A kinder, gentler Sabbatini held on at Honda.
By: Rob Doster | 3/7/11, 12:07 PM EST
Rory Sabbatini held on to win the Honda Classic.
At times at this weekend’s Honda Classic, as players trudged around the windswept PGA National Champion course, it seemed that a U.S. Open had broken out. The Bear Trap, the Nicklaus-toughened 15-17 stretch, took its toll, and Rory Sabbatini took advantage, building a five-shot lead heading into the final round. On Sunday, though, the wind died down and the scoreboard lit up, putts started dropping and balls started finding fairways. Sabbatini’s lead proved big enough, but just barely, as he held off a charging Y.E. Yang by a single shot to earn his sixth career win.
Yang posted three birdies down the stretch, including a birdie on 18 for a final-round 66 that forced Sabbatini to make a less-than-routine two-putt par for the win. Sabbatini’s clutch birdie on 16 had provided the necessary cushion, giving him the final word in his duel with the Bear Trap.
“You know, fantastic golf course,” he said. “Extremely challenging. The (course) preparation was incredible. You know, I guess there’s a pretty good reason they call it the Bear Trap because if it doesn’t get you one way, it's going to get you another. It definitely caused some stress for me today. But you know, just a fantastic week, and just really thankful to be sitting here right now.
“I think my wife was pregnant twice before during two of my wins and this time thankfully she wasn't because I don't know if she could have handled the stress today. Definitely to me, every win out here is as special as the first one. They are all different. They are all unique and just what can I say? It was a fantastic week, and everything went great and it was just better than could be expected.”
Sabbatini’s history of pot-stirring has often made him an unpopular figure on Tour. There was the time he got fed up with playing partner Ben Crane’s slow play and walked to the next tee while Crane was still putting. Then there was the time he got curb-stomped by Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2007 Wachovia and proceeded to proclaim Woods “more beatable than ever.”
But this is a kinder, gentler Sabbatini. It may be too late to rehab his reputation among golf fans completely, but he’s trying. He really is.
“I’m a passionate golfer, I really am,” he said. “I love the game of golf and I’ve had my moments. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done out here, but I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be a role model for my children and I know as my wife has said to me, I wouldn’t want my son doing some of the things that I've done in the past.
“So I definitely have to take into account that my son is old enough now that he understands everything that I do, and really try and be a role model for him.”
Sabbatini has a kindred spirit in Jerry Kelly, who finished third and shares Sabbatini’s passionate, volatile approach to the game. “He gets in his own way an awful lot and rubs some people the wrong way,” Kelly said. “I can relate to that because I’m the same type of person. But he usually has the best intentions for everybody else around him. Today, he did not let his emotions get the best of him.”
Weapon of Choice
All clubs are important, but golfers are especially particular, even neurotic and superstitious, about their putters. Sometimes a change of implements is all it takes for the putts to start dropping. Such was the case for Sabbatini, who recently switched to a TaylorMade Tour Ghost TM-770, with spectacular results this week.
“You know, it’s actually quite bizarre,” he said. “I’ve never quite had as much confidence in a new putter as I have in this one. After picking it up last week down in México and hitting a few putts with it, right away it just felt amazing to me. And was doing a little bit of work with it during the week, but obviously not using it during the tournament; and then getting here this week and doing some practice with it, it really just felt phenomenal. I can honestly say I think it was probably one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made in my golf game.”
Can’t get a much better endorsement than that. Check’s probably in the mail.
Golf lost a seminal genius with the recent passing of Frank Chirkinian, longtime producer of CBS’ golf telecasts. With his love for the event and his attention to detail, Chirkinian made the Masters broadcast the must-see television event on the golf calendar. Among his countless innovations: on-course microphones; quick cuts from player to player to bring viewers non-stop action; the use of blimps to provide overhead views; and, perhaps best of all, the presentation of player scores in relation to par rather than by total, a seemingly obvious adjustment that made golf radically easier to follow. He truly was the Father of Televised Golf, but he seemed to prefer his other nickname — The Ayatollah, a nod to his dictatorial, uncompromising approach to his craft. RIP.
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