Sabbatini Sabotages Mercedes Field
Under calm conditions, Rory Sabbatini fired a flawless 8-under-par 65 to turn a four-shot overnight deficit into a two-stroke advantage entering the final round at the par-73 Plantation Course in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
At 16-under, Sabbatini has supplanted his countryman, Ernie Els, at the top of the leaderboard. In fact, Els has fallen from four-up to four-down following an even-par 73 in the third round. The two-time U.S. Open champion slipped from outright first into a share of third place with Jim Furyk(69) at 12-under-par, two shots back of Vijay Singh.
The reigning Masters champion birdied each of his final four holes in the third round to climb to 14-under for the tournament, thus earning a spot in Sunday's final pairing.
Four players are five off the pace at 11-under, including Paul Azinger (68), who was within two strokes of the lead before topping his second shot at the par-5 15th and taking double bogey.
Saturday, Sabbatini recorded six birdies over his first 15 holes, yet it was still Els who was in control of the tournament. The elder South African birdied his final four holes on the front nine to maintain his four-stroke advantage over the field.
Then everything fell apart.
Els played the two par-5s on the back nine in 3-over-par, twice having to take penalty drops because of errant tee shots. He added another bogey at the 12th hole for an inward half of 41.
Els led throughout the day, until he bogeyed the par-5 15th to fall into a tie for first with Sabbatini. Then, before he could even make his way to the 16th tee, Els found himself trailing by two.
Less than a minute removed from Els' bogey at the 15th, Sabbatini holed a wedge approach shot at the par-4 16th. The result was a three-shot swing and a two-stroke lead for the younger statesman.
'I wasn't trying to hole it,' Sabbatini later said. 'I just wanted to get it up there and give myself a chance.'
That moved Sabbatini to 16-under, where he finished the day after tapping in for par on the home hole, a hole that Els would eventually double-bogey.
Said Els after his round: 'I had a four-shot lead coming in here and now I'm four shots behind. It seemed to happen in just seconds. But, yeah, I can turn it around tomorrow.'
This is Sabbatini's first visit to Kapalua; and he seems to be handling the grainy greens quite well. The 24-year-old qualified for the event by winning last year's Air Canada Championship. Another day like today and he can add a second Tour trophy to his mantle.
'It was one of those days where everything seems to go your way,' Sabbatini said. 'I'm just going to go into tomorrow, have some fun and, I guess, God will determine the outcome.'
As for Tiger Woods, the defending champion is eight shots off the lead at 8-under-par. Paired with David Duval, Woods shot a 6-birdie, one-bogey 68 on Saturday, three strokes higher than that recorded by Duval.
The 1999 Mercedes champion posted eight birdies to nary a bogey to tie Sabbatini for the tournament's low score, an 8-under-par 65. Duval stands at 10-under for the tournament, six off the lead.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.