Sabbatini Seeking Spark at Nelson

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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.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - EDS Byron Nelson Championship