Daily Wrap-up: The Honda Classic, Rd. 4

March 06, 2011
Staff and wire reports

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Walking off the second tee Sunday, Rory Sabbatini veered left and stopped, peering toward a patch of 3-foot grass and the lake behind it.

Fourth-round coverage
A NEW BLACK HAT: Rory Sabbatini's outspoken nature sometimes overshadowed his winning golf. Now, he appears content to let his play do the talking. Story
YANG, ALMOST: Y.E. Yang shot a strong Sunday 66 but fell short by a shot. Nonetheless, he leaves Palm Beach Gardens with renewed confidence. Story
SUNDAY MONEY: Graeme McDowell moved into a tie for sixth Sunday with a course record-matching 64 at PGA National, the first time he broke 70 all week. Story
NO CHANGE AT TOP: Lee Westwood could have leaped over Martin Kaymer back into the world No. 1 spot but failed to finish in the top three at The Honda. Story

Trouble for The Honda Classic leader? Maybe. Something was rustling in the rough.

"Is that a gator?" Sabbatini said.

The South African was wise to brace himself for any menace on the PGA National course. While no reptile sightings were confirmed, Sabbatini's five-stroke lead shrank to one in the space of seven holes, and a halt in play because of lightning delayed his march toward victory.

He weathered the weather, turned back a late challenge from Y.E. Yang and shot an even-par 70 for a one-stroke win.

"Luckily I had enough of a cushion that I didn't get too concerned," Sabbatini said. "I knew going into today that if I shot even par, it was going to be tough to catch."

He sealed the title with a 2-foot par putt on No. 18 for a 72-hole total of 9-under 271. The resident of Fort Worth, Texas, earned his sixth PGA TOUR victory and his first since the 2009 Byron Nelson Championship.

Yang, Honda's 2009 winner, birdied the final hole for a closing 66 to finish 8 under. Jerry Kelly, who played with Sabbatini and Yang in the last threesome, shot a 67 and took third at 7 under.

"Rory did what he had to do to hold us off," Kelly said, "and we just didn't hit it good enough to make enough birdies."

Lee Westwood shot 70-284 and tied for 29th place, meaning Martin Kaymer will remain ranked No. 1. Westwood fell to No. 2 on Feb. 28 and needed a top-three finish to regain the top spot Monday.

Sabbatini is known for his fiery personality, outspoken nature and occasional digs at Tiger Woods, who skipped the event. But Sabbatini's demeanor was even-keel from the time he took the lead to stay on the front nine Saturday.

"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."

The Sabbatinis have three children ranging in age from 7 years to 5 months.

Dad started the final round up by five shots, and after No. 8 the lead remained the same. But Yang was within one stroke seven holes later, thanks to birdies on Nos. 12 and 14 and two bogeys by Sabbatini.

Then came treacherous Nos. 15-17, the water-laden stretch known as the Bear Trap. But there would be no collapse by the leader.

Shot of the Day

Y. E. Yang sticks his tee shot to inches, then taps in the birdie on the par-3 15th hole during the final round.

In fact, Yang said he was more shaky than Sabbatini down the stretch.

"Usually if you're in front, if you're running away from somebody, you tend to be a bit nervous," the South Korean said through an interpreter. "But in Rory's case, apart from No. 14, he seemed really calm. I commend him for being, I guess, so emotionally stable. I wasn't."

A change in putters before the tournament gave Sabbatini's game a lift, and the new club came through again on No. 16. He sank a 16-foot birdie putt to go back up by two.

Then Sabbatini put his tee shot on the dangerous par-3 17th in the middle of the green. Moments later, a horn signaled a stoppage in play because of lightning in the area.

"It was good for him that he actually put it on the green before the horn went off," Yang said.

The players found refuge in a van as heavy rain fell during a 28-minute delay. But the threat to Sabbatini's lead had passed, and when the round resumed he easily closed out the win.

Sabbatini played the Bear Trap 1 under for the tournament, while the rest of field was 1 over.

"I just really tried to play those holes as smartly as I could and just try to eliminate any opportunity for some big numbers," Sabbatini said. "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."

Scores were lower Sunday because the winds of earlier in the week fell off, but the average round for the tournament was still 2 strokes above par. Since the beginning of 2010, only last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach has had a higher average -- 4 over par.

PGA National: Sunday
The par-5 3rd hole was the easiest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.592.
The par-4 10th hole was the toughest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.408.
About the winner
• Sabbatini became the sixth international winner of the Honda Classic since 2005, joining Padraig Harrington (2005), Luke Donald (2006), Ernie Els (2008), Y.E. Yang (2009) and Camilo Villegas (2010). The only American winner during that time was Mark Wilson in 2007.
• Rory Sabbatini jumped to third on the FedExCup points list with his win. The top 10 players on the points list as of March 7, if not otherwise eligible, will gain entry into next week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. As a result, Sabbatini earns a berth in the event.
• One of the keys to Rory Sabbatini's victory was his ability to scramble. He missed 25 Greens in Regulation but converted on 21 of those to lead all players at 84.0 percent. Sabbatini was also T2 in Putts per Round with 27.0 and was a perfect six for six in Sand Saves.
• Sabbatini's victory came in his first appearance in this tournament since 2004 when he finished T9 when the event was staged at The Country Club at Mirasol.

Graeme McDowell shot a 64, matching the lowest score in the event since it moved to PGA National in 2007, and finished 2 under. No. 3-ranked Luke Donald, the 2006 champion, tied for 10th at 1 under, shooting a closing 66.