Sabbatini Seeking Spark at Nelson

By Associated PressMay 10, 2006, 4:00 pm
IRVING, Texas -- Rory Sabbatini is finally having the kind of season he always felt was possible.
'I sensed it more and more, and then last year was just a complete letdown,' said Sabbatini, playing near home this week at the Byron Nelson Championship.
'Going into this year just made it a lot easier not putting added pressure on myself and setting goals. Just go out there and play.'
The youngest player on the PGA TOUR when he was a 22-year-old rookie in 1999, Sabbatini started this season with six straight top-20 finishes. The South African was second twice before winning the Nissan Open and taking over the top spot on the money list for the first time in his career. Despite not finishing better than 33rd and missing the cut twice since, Sabbatini isn't frustrated.
'Ultimately, you've got to look in the perspective of all things considered,' he said. 'You don't have that much to be frustrated about.'
Sabbatini is still sixth on the money list with $2.3 million -- already more than in any season other than his career-best $2.5 million in 2004 when he had seven top 10s. (He was 89th with $920,988 and only three top 10s last year).
As for the difference in how the season started and his last five tournaments, Sabbatini can think of only one thing that has really changed.
'I'm still putting well, hitting the ball well, and everything like that,' he said. 'Just getting started, it doesn't seem like there's been that spark to get the round going for me of late.'
Maybe sleeping in his own bed in nearby Southlake, and being home for the Byron Nelson, without Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, will get him back on track. The first round is Thursday.
Woods, whose record streak of 142 straight cuts ended at the Nelson last year, has not said when he will return after the death of his father, Earl, last week.
Mickelson's streak of 10 straight Nelson appearances began with his win in 1996. The Masters champion cited personal reasons when he withdrew this week, and had previously hinted that he was tired and needed a break before playing his way to the U.S. Open, and a shot as his third straight major victory.
'I want them in the field. I mean, you want to beat those players,' defending Nelson champion Ted Purdy said. 'All those guys are really tough to beat. If they're not in the field, it's just two less guys that we have to beat. ... Whoever took Phil's place probably has winning on his mind, too.'
Purdy's first victory came last May when the Nelson field included the world's top five players: Woods, Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.
'It's been the best year of my life being defending champion,' said Purdy, who was fifth at Bay Hill for his only top 10 this season.
Purdy defends his only PGA TOUR title against a field with six of the top 10 players, but missing the top three. Goosen also isn't back after missing the cut in his only Nelson appearance.
That makes Singh, playing his 20th tournament since last winning at the Buick Open in July, the highest-ranked player in the field. He tied for third last year at the Nelson, and was the 2004 champion -- one of nine tournaments he won that season before four more wins last year.
Singh lost in a playoff to Stuart Appleby in the season-opening Mercedes Championship and has seven top 10s while making the cut in all 11 of his tournaments this season. But he's coming off his two worst performances: tie for 36th at the Houston Open, where he was the two-time defending champion, and a tie for 38th last week at the Wachovia Championship.
Els is also playing, but he's no longer in the top five. Jim Furyk won the Wachovia last week and took over No. 5, dropping Els a spot.
'It's a nice thing to be in the top 5, but I've never really put a lot of emphasis on world rankings,' said Furyk, who was also that high in 2003 when he won the U.S. Open. 'That's not important. What's important is trying to win golf tournaments and trying to get better in this game.'
Furyk has never won consecutive tournaments, his 11 victories coming in 10 different seasons. The only season he won twice was in 2003, when he also won the Buick Open.
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.