Sabbatini: Woods will play well upon return

Tiger Woods and Rory Sabbatini shake hands after the 2007 Bridgestone Invitational.

Tiger Woods and Rory Sabbatini shake hands after the 2007 Bridgestone Invitational.

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DALLAS – Rory Sabbatini once made headlines for calling Tiger Woods “more beatable than ever,” and that was long before the world’s No. 1 golfer put his career on hold to straighten out his personal life.

So, how does Sabbatini expect Woods to play once he returns?

“We all know you don’t just have a talent like that and it disappears,” Sabbatini said Thursday. “It’s going to be there, it’s going to return. He’s going to be playing well. It’s going to be interesting to see how his mental game is, how his head is in regards to keeping his focus out there.”

He also said it’s going to be interesting “to see the reaction of the public to Tiger.”

“Obviously he’s always been the golden boy of the spectators,” Sabbatini said. “It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how they react to that, how they respond to it when it occurs.”

In May 2007, Woods and Sabbatini were in the final pairing of the final round of the Wachovia Championship. Sabbatini saw Woods three-putt for a double bogey on the 13th hole on his way to winning the event. A few days later, Sabbatini made his comment about Woods’ vulnerability, which was so shocking because foes so rarely uttered a disparaging word about Woods.

Sabbatini said Thursday there was no fallout between them because “there’s never really been much of a relationship with Tiger.”

That leaves Sabbatini like many golf fans when it comes to guessing when Woods will return.

Jack Nicklaus said Wednesday he would be surprised if Woods wasn’t back in time to play the Masters. Sabbatini had no such predictions. But he did have what sounded like advice.

“You have to be happy at home if you’re going to be happy on Tour,” Sabbatini said. “They kind of coincide, hand-in-hand. It’s understandable (to wait). He has a lot to get sorted out at home before he’s ready to put his head back into the game of golf. Obviously he’s got that to focus on. He’ll come out when he’s ready to play again.”

Sabbatini was the guest of honor Thursday at a kickoff luncheon for the Byron Nelson Championship, a tournament he won last year with a record score of 19 under.

He received a trophy from Nelson’s widow, Peggy, and took part in a questions-and-answers session that the moderator declared from the start would not include any Woods talk.

Afterward, though, Sabbatini answered every question about the PGA Tour’s biggest star and the void created by his absence.

“Obviously it has its downfalls, but it also has some good points in it, too,” Sabbatini said. “I think it’s very fortunate they’ve had some great young players come out. Rickie Fowler’s one of the names the Tour is looking to to create a new bit of entertainment. Obviously Anthony Kim and quite a few other players out there that I think the Tour is going to have to use a little bit more, put a little bit more focus on.”

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