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Golf Today > Tour Schedules > 2006 > PGA Tour > Nissan Open > Round 4
 

NISSAN OPEN RELATED STORIES





Rory Sabbatini holds on to claim victory

Losing a four-shot lead was bad enough.

What rekindled the fire in Rory Sabbatini was hearing a crowd rooting so hard for Fred Couples that it began cheering Sabbatini's misfortune. And when the South African made another sloppy bogey on the 15th hole to slip into a four-way tie for the lead Sunday in the Nissan Open, he knew it was time to turn it around.

"That was definitely one of the hardest rounds of golf I've played in my life," Sabbatini said. "It seemed like everything was going the wrong way."

On the verge of a collapse, Sabbatini hit a 7-iron to 5 feet on the pivotal par-3 16th hole for a birdie, sending him to a one-shot victory over Adam Scott that finally gave him something to show for his great start to the season.

Sabbatini never realized it would be so difficult.

He heard muffled applause on some of his best shots, and jeers when he found a bunker on the 12th hole and made bogey to lose the lead for the first time since Friday. Then came his spectacular escape from the trees with a 2-iron on the 13th hole that allowed him to stride up the fairway with a putter in his hand.

Only later did he realize the applause was for his ball rolling off the green.

"I thought it must be on the green, but I was wrong," he said. "That was the Freddie Couples Support Team. That just seemed like the way everything was going, hitting a lot of good shots that seemed to go the wrong way."

Sabbatini overcame it all, and when he lagged his 45-foot putt to within a foot of the cup for a tap-in par on the 18th, he had a 1-over 72 and his first victory in three years.

And this time, the applause was for him.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions," Sabbatini said. "Relief is probably the biggest one."

It was despair for Couples, who stood over an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole to take the lead only to leave it short. Then, the two-time Nissan Open champion and one of the most popular figures in golf threw it all away with three bogeys on the final four holes.

Sabbatini had the highest final round by a Nissan Open winner since Tom Purtzer shot 72 to win in 1977. Sabbatini wound up at 13-under 271 to edge Scott, the defending champion who started the final round nine shots out of the lead and not expecting to have a chance.

Scott shot 31 on the back nine and closed with a 64. He was on the range waiting to see if it would be good enough to at least get into a playoff, but Sabbatini refused to let that happen.

"You always hear the stories ... 'Ah, he blew it.' I didn't want to give them anything more to fire at me," Sabbatini said. "I didn't want to give them any more ammunition."

There's not much to say about Sabbatini now except to note his sterling start this year -- a victory, two times a runner-up, and more than $2.1 million to take a commanding lead atop the PGA Tour money list.

Craig Barlow was part of the four-way tie for the lead at 12 under when he birdied the 15th, but he came up short of the 16th hole and made bogey, lipped out a birdie putt on the 17th and shot 70 to finish two shots behind.

The tournament was decided on the 16th, a 152-yard hole surrounded by steep bunkers.

With a strong, cool wind in their faces, Barlow came up well short of the green. Couples hit 6-iron well to the right, and it bounced off the tree and into the bunker.

"I knew if I could take 7-iron, hit my shot, keep it down, control it, then it would be perfect," Sabbatini said. "As soon as I made contract and looked up, I knew it would be good."

Cupping his hand over his visor to fight the glare of the sun, he saw it clear the bunkers and heard cheering -- and this time, he knew it was for him.

Scott won last year in a playoff when the Nissan Open was cut to 36 holes because of rain, so it did not count as an official victory. He would have loved a chance for extra holes Sunday, which sounded ludicrous when he began the final round nine shots out of the lead.

"I didn't think I had a chance," Scott said. "When I got to about the 12th hole, the leaders were still at 13 and 14 (under par). The wind picked up in our face, and I knew if I could get a few more birdies they would have some tough holes coming in."

Sabbatini, 29, won for the first time since 2003. Of players in their 20s, only Sergio Garcia with six victories has won more on the PGA Tour.

The South African was coming off his worst year since his rookie season in 1999, but quickly put that to rest. He has not finished lower than 20th in his six starts, and along with his victory at Riviera, Sabbatini finished second at the Sony Open and last week at Pebble Beach.

"It's totally a game of confidence," Scott said. "When you've got that confidence, you've got to run with it because who knows how long it's going to last?"

Sabbatini smiled when he heard this.

"I figure I can ride this out 10 or 15 years," he said. "It's a game of cycles. All you can do is play your best and hope you get some luck along the way."

 

 




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