With his brash, outspoken ways, Rory Sabbatini hasn’t always been a model citizen.
But he’s determined to recast his image.
Winning the Honda Classic on Sunday was a step in the right direction.
Sabbatini shot an even-par 70 to hold off Y.E. Yang by a stroke to win his sixth career PGA Tour title and first since the 2009 Byron Nelson Championship.
“I’m a passionate golfer,” 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.”
Yang, the 2009 winner at the Honda, made a big charge on the back nine of the final round, finishing with a 4-under 66. Sabbatini and Yang were two of six international players to finish T-10 or better at the Honda. Graeme McDowell (with a final-round 64), Luke Donald, Hiroyuki Fujita and Stuart Appleby were the others.
Here are five things to take away from the weekend at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.:
1) No time to rest
Sabbatini’s triumph is notable because it comes on his eighth consecutive week of playing. Ineligible for the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Sabbatini has teed it up every week since – the Sony, the Bob Hope, at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, then Pebble Beach for the AT&T, onward to the Northern Trust Open at Riviera and then, when most guys would have flopped with exhaustion, Sabbatini went to the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico.
For winning, Sabbatini not only gets $1,026,000, he earns a spot in next week’s Cadillac Championship an hour down the road at Doral.
Nine straight? Sabbatini is ready.
2) Another learning experience
Before Sabbatini stole the show with a superb weekend, there was rookie Kyle Stanley. When he made six birdies against just two bogeys Friday to shoot 68, the one-time Clemson University standout was 6 under and had his first-ever PGA Tour lead.
Unfortunately, much of what happened over the course of 35 holes Saturday and Sunday served as bad news, but Stanley still showed a slight smile after falling all the way into a tie for 24th.
“That eagle will help a lot,” Stanley said.
It was a brilliant approach from 231 yards at the 551-yard closing hole, and with a 10-foot eagle roll, Stanley had reason to feel good. Rounds of 74-75 had turned the front-runner into an afterthought, “but it’s my first year out here, and there is lots to learn,” he said.
Nevertheless, he’s faring well: Last week, Stanley finished T-13 in Mexico, and with $185,769 in earnings, he is 78th on the money list.
3) The Back is Holding Up Fine, Thank You
Ricky Barnes is back, at least after his 4th place finish, his best finish since a 3rd at the Memorial Tournament last year. Barnes has suffered back issues this year due to what has been characterized as a mild bulging disk, which has kept the U.S. Amateur champion on the bench, withdrawing from Bob Hope and finishing 72nd at Northern Trust Open.
But this week at Honda, Barnes felt the best he’s felt this year.
“It held up a lot better than I thought it would,” Barnes said of his pesky back. “It held up a little better than after L.A. I’m going after the ball without any pain, but late in the day I need that achiness to go away. “
Barnes will take the week off before resuming his schedule at Tampa, Fla., in the Transitions Championship.
4) Still Number Two
Lee Westwood entered the week as the world No. 2, but hoped to slip back into the top spot with a solo third or better at the Honda. During the second round, the Englishman was right where he needed to be at 4-under for the tournament, but that was the best he could accomplish. He slid down the leaderboard and finished T-29 with a final round 70.
By the way, Rory Sabbatini jumped 50 places to No. 52.
5) The Field Is Set
The World Golf Championship – Cadillac Championship is next week and the only addition to the field was Rory Sabbatini, who moved into third place in the FedEx Cup standings, the PGA Tour’s season-long competition.
Sabbatini last played in the WGC championship at Doral in 2009 and finished T-53. The South African’s best finish in WGC events came at the Bridgestone Invitational when he finished second in 2004 and 2007.