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 bogey on the 15th hole to slip into a four-way tie for the lead 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,’ Sabbatini said. ‘It seemed like everything was going the wrong way.’
On the verge of a collapse, Sabbatini hit a 7-iron to five feet on the par-3 16th hole for a birdie, sending him to a one-shot victory over Adam Scott.
Sabbatini 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 the second round. 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 realise 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.
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.
‘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.’
Sabbatini’s fine start to 2006 – a victory, two times a runner-up, and more than $2.1-million – helped him to take a commanding lead atop the PGA Tour money list. The 29-year-old 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.