PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP)—Rory Sabbatini ’s shot barely beat thebuzzer.
Holding a two-stroke lead at the Honda Classic, the South African stepped tothe tee at the treacherous par-three 17th hole and lofted his drive to themiddle of the green, avoiding the lake that had been collecting balls all week.
Moments later a horn sounded, signaling a suspension of play because oflightning. As rain began falling harder, Sabbatini walked briskly to his balland happily marked it before finding refuge in a van.Rory Sabbatini reacts as he mi…
AP - Mar 6, 1:20 pm EST
“I was pretty content to have it on the green at that time,” he said.
The tee shot left Sabbatini significantly closer to victory, and after a28-minute delay he completed his march to the title, shooting an even-par 70Sunday for a one-stroke win.
Y.E. Yang made it close, cutting a five-shot deficit to one in the span ofseven holes. But Sabbatini birdied No. 16, then came through with a clutch paron 17.
While spectators wondered if Sabbatini would fold, Yang said he was actuallythe shakier player down the stretch.
“Usually if you’re in front, if you’re running away from somebody, you tendto be a bit nervous,” Yang said through an interpreter. “But in Rory’s case,apart from No. 14, he seemed really calm. I commend him for being I guess soemotionally stable. I wasn’t.”
Sabbatini sealed the title with a 2-foot par putt on No. 18 for a 72-holetotal of 9-under 271. The resident of Fort Worth, Texas, earned his sixth PGATour victory and his first since the 2009 Byron Nelson Championship.
Yang, Honda’s 2009 winner, birdied the final hole for a closing 66 to finish8 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 justdidn’t hit it good enough to make enough birdies.”
Lee Westwood shot a 70 for a 284 total and tied for 29th place, meaningMartin Kaymer will remain ranked No. 1. Westwood fell to No. 2 on Feb. 28 andneeded a top-three finish to regain the top spot Monday.
Sabbatini is known for his fiery personality, outspoken nature andoccasional digs at Tiger Woods , who skipped the event. But Sabbatini’s demeanorwas even-keel from 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’vehad my moments. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done out here, but I’m tryingto learn. I’m trying to be a role model for my children, and I know as my wifehas said to me, I wouldn’t want my son doing some of the things that I’ve donein the past.”
The Sabbatinis have three children ranging in age from 7 years to 5 1/2 months.
Kelly said he and Sabbatini are alike in that they’re hard on themselveswhen things aren’t going well.
“Rory gets in his own way an awful lot and rubs some people the wrongway,” Kelly said. “But he usually has the best intentions for everybody elsearound him.”
Sabbatini started the final round up by five shots, and after No. 8 the leadremained the same. But Yang closed to within one stroke thanks to birdies onNos. 12 and 14 and two bogeys by Sabbatini.
Then came Nos. 15-17, the challenging water-laden stretch known as the BearTrap. But there would be no collapse by the leader.
A change in putters before the tournament gave Sabbatini’s game a lift, andthe new club came through again on No. 16. He sank a 16-foot birdie putt to goback up by two.
Sabbatini averaged 27 putts per rounds, which tied for second-best in thetournament.
“It’s actually quite bizarre—I’ve never quite had as much confidence in anew putter as I have in this one,” he said. “It was probably one of thesmartest decisions I’ve ever made in my golf game.”