PGA Tour

sabbatini

Rory Sabbatini – Honda Classic Champ

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rory Sabbatini began the day with a big lead, turned back a challenge on the back nine and shot an even-par 70 Sunday for a one-stroke victory in the Honda Classic.

By: Steven Wine – Associated Press

The South African sank a 2-foot par putt on No. 18 to finish at 9-under 271. He earned his first PGA Tour title since the 2009 HP Byron Nelson Championship and sixth overall.

Y.E. Yang birdied the final hole for a closing 66 to finish 8 under. Jerry Kelly, who played with Sabbatini and Yang in the final threesome, shot a 67 and took third at 7 under.

“Usually if you’re in front, if you’re running away from somebody, you tend to be a bit nervous,” the South Korean said through an interpreter. “But in Rory’s case, apart from No. 14, he seemed really calm. I commend him for being, I guess, so emotionally stable. I wasn’t.”

Sabbatini started the final round ahead by five shots, and was still in front by five when he finished No. 8. But Yang was within one stroke seven holes later, thanks to birdies on Nos. 12 and 14 and two bogeys by Sabbatini.

“Rory did what he had to do to hold us off,” Kelly said, “and we just didn’t hit it good enough to make enough birdies.”

Then came treacherous Nos. 15-17, the water-laden stretch known as the Bear Trap. But there would be no collapse by the leader.

“Luckily I had enough of a cushion that I didn’t get too concerned,” Sabbatini said. “I knew going into today that if I shot even par, it was going to be tough to catch.”

A change in putters before the tournament gave Sabbatini’s game a lift, and the new club came through again on No. 16 when he sank a 16-foot birdie putt to go back up by two.

Then he put his tee shot on the dangerous par-3 17th in the middle of the green.

Moments later, the horn sounded to signal a stoppage in play because of lightning in the area. The leaders found refuge in a van as heavy rain fell during a 28-minute delay.

But the threat to Sabbatini’s lead had passed, and when play resumed he easily closed out the win.

Lee Westwood, who fell to No. 2 in the rankings behind Martin Kaymer on Feb. 28, shot 70 and tied for 29th. He needed a top-3 finish to regain the top ranking.

Graeme McDowell shot a 64, matching the lowest score in the event since it moved to PGA National in 2007, and was 2 under for the tournament.

The average round was 2 1/2 strokes above par. Since the beginning of 2010, only last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach has had a higher average: 4 over par.

Sabbatini is known for his fiery personality, outspoken nature and occasional digs at Tiger Woods, who skipped the event. But Sabbatini’s demeanor was even-keel from the 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’ve had my moments. I’m not proud of everything I’ve done out here, but I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be a role model for my children, and I know as my wife has said to me, I wouldn’t want my son doing some of the things that I’ve done in the past.”

The Sabbatinis have three children ranging in age from 7 years to 5 1/2 months.

Dad started the final round up by five shots, and after No. 8 the lead remained the same. But Yang was within one stroke seven holes later, thanks to birdies on Nos. 12 and 14 and two bogeys by Sabbatini.

dustinjohnson

Dustin Johnson fires 65

MIAMI – Before Dustin Johnson teed off Saturday, his swing coach Butch Harmon told him there was a 65 out there.

Johnson found it. He doesn’t have to be told what’s out there for him Sunday.

The hard-luck loser of last year’s PGA Championship will have a chance for the biggest win of his career when he takes a two-shot lead into the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral. While others faltered on the back nine and particularly on the infamous 18th, Johnson had it in cruise control, attacking the course with his distance and blitzing the back nine in 31 to fulfill Harmon’s prediction.

It also came after a 20-minute range session with his coach Saturday morning.

“There wasn’t anything going wrong,” said Johnson, who was at 13-under par 203. “I wanted to get him out there just to take a look at some things. The first two days I didn’t drive it that great. I hit into the fairway a little bit but I wasn’t hitting the type of shots that I wanted to. I hit a lot of good drives today.”

According to Harmon, he knew Johnson was dialed in when he started bombing them over Doral instructor Jim McLean‘s shed. Johnson hit 10 of 14 fairways, with one of the misses going into the front bunker on the drivable 16th hole. Averaging 292.9 yards a drive, he was the definition of overpowering.

His competition, meanwhile, fell off late. Luke Donald (66), looking for his second straight WGC win, tied for the lead with a birdie on No. 14 but bogeyed the 18th to fall two back in second. Nick Watney (68), another Harmon student, missed a three-foot birdie putt that would have given him the outright lead on No. 17, then drove it into the water on No. 18, pulling his hat over his face. A day that began with an eagle ended with a double bogey and left him tied for second with Donald and Matt Kuchar (68).

Finally, Hunter Mahan, who had led for most of the tournament, bogeyed four of the last six holes to shoot 71 and fall into a fifth-place tie, three shots back.

As for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, playing together for the third straight day, their hopes of winning again at Doral are done. Woods rebounded with a 2-under 70 after switching putters from his trusty Scotty Cameron to a Nike model and using it a week-low 28 times. But Tiger, was 11 behind and is paired Sunday with Thomas Bjorn, the man who beat him in match play last month, also hit just five of 14 fairways and ducked any questions from the media.

Mickelson didn’t talk either after shooting even par with just four fairways hit to be 13 back. If Mickelson makes up two shots on Woods and ends up tying him, he will pass him in the World Rankings for the first time since Woods won the 1997 Masters. That’s the only drama left for them Sunday.