The Amazing Sabbatini

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Rory Sabbatini birdied the final two holes - the two most difficult on the Northview Golf Course - to capture his first career PGA Tour title at the Air Canada Championship.
 
Sabbatini fired a 6-under-par 65 to better overnight leader Grant Waite by one-shot at 16-under-par. The 24-year-old South African became the fourth player to earn his maiden victory at the five-year-old event, and the eighth first-time winner on the Tour in 2000.
 
'I've had three chances before,' said a teary-eyed Sabbatini, 'and to finally break through and win one - it's an awesome feeling.'
 
This is Sabbatini's fourth career top-3 finish on the PGA Tour, and, of course, his first victory. Sabbatini collected a pair of third-place finishes in 1999 at the BellSouth Classic and the B.C. Open. He also garnered a runner-up finish at this year's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
 
In an airtight final round in Surrey, British Columbia, Sabbatini prevailed by becoming the first player of the week to birdie both the 17th and 18th holes in the same round.
 
Beginning the day three strokes off the lead, Sabbatini made an early move up the leaderboard by chipping in for eagle at the par-5 4th. A birdie at the par-5 12th gave the former Arizona Wildcat sole possession of the lead at 14-under, though; a red-hot Chris Riley quickly joined him at the top.
 
After a 1-over-par 37 on the front nine, Riley birdied his first five holes on the inward half to tie Sabbatini at 14-under. Unfortunately for Riley, his birdie streak came to an abrupt halt at the 15th. He played his final four holes in 1-over to finish the tournament in a tie for 4th at 13-under-par.
 
A number of players had their chances on Sunday, including Sergio Garcia. Just one shot off the lead through 15, the Spaniard failed to post a red number over his final three holes. His 13-under performance earned him a 4-way share of 4th with Riley, Doug Barron and Michael Clark II, who carded an 8-under 63 in the final round.
 
Mark Calcavecchia made a bid for his second Air Canada title in four years by birdying the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. But the 1997 champion came up two-shots short in an effort to claim his first victory in three seasons.
 
Waite had the best chance of thwarting Sabbatini on Sunday. The Kiwi birdied the 14th to reclaim a share of the lead at 14-under, but missed a six-footer at the 15th, which would have given him the top spot by his lonesome. An errant tee shot at the par-3 16th led to Waite's fourth bogey of the day, and effectually ended any chance the 35-year-old had of earning his first Tour win since the 1993 Kemper Open.
 
Waite matched Sabbatini's performance on the 71st and 72nd holes, but his 269 aggregate was one shot too many.
 
'I'm disappointed I didn't win,' said Waite, 'but I still feel good about my finishing two holes.'
 
Sabbatini's play down the stretch was nothing short of spectacular. Playing alongside Calc, the South African showed no signs of wilting after the 20-year Tour veteran nearly holed his approach shot at the par-4 17th. Calc's gimme birdie would have tied him with Sabbatini at 14-under - had Rory not dropped a 15-foot birdie of his own at the penultimate hole.
 
Maintaining his one-stroke advantage with one to play, Sabbatini drove through the fairway on the par-4 18th. Again showing his mettle, Sabbatini played for the pin at the home hole, barely carrying the surrounding water.
 
Then, with Calc looking on and facing a similar putt, Sabbatini calmly snaked in a 25-foot curler for birdie and the victory.
 
'When I first came on Tour, I thought I could beat anybody,' Sabbatini said. 'It's nice to be an optimist, but you also have to be a realist.
 
'I'm glad I've finally got one under my belt.'
 
'I remember my first win,' said Calcavecchia. 'I know it's a big thrill for him. As far as he hits it, if he can keep it on the course, he'll win more.'
 
In just his second season on Tour, Sabbatini collects a winner's check of $540,000 - more than half of what he earned in his first 47-career starts combined. The victory also takes him over the million-dollar mark for the season. With $1,119,902, Sabbatini becomes the 33rd Tour millionaire in 2000.