PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Forget about the black hat.
Rory Sabbatini may reside in Texas — where cowboys and villains have filled many a large screen — but he doesn’t like to be shone in that light anymore.
YANG, ALMOST: Y.E. Yang shot a strong Sunday 66 but fell short by a shot. Nonetheless, he leaves Palm Beach Gardens with renewed confidence. Story SUNDAY MONEY: Graeme McDowell moved into a tie for sixth Sunday with a course record-matching 64 at PGA National, the first time he broke 70 all week. Story NO CHANGE AT TOP: Lee Westwood could have leaped over Martin Kaymer back into the world No. 1 spot but failed to finish in the top three at The Honda. Story
Sure, the South African was the one who famously took on Tiger Woods a few years ago, claiming he was as beatable as anyone. And Sabbatini also was the one who infamously left Ben Crane behind late in the round because he felt his partner was playing too slow.
But the Sabbatini who won Sunday’s Honda Classic by a shot over Y.E. Yang for his sixth career PGA TOUR title insists he’s not the bad guy everyone thinks he is. Nor did he ever embrace that caustic image.
“No, I don’t enjoy it,” Sabbatini said. “I’m a passionate golfer, I really am. 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.
“So I definitely have to take into account that my son is old enough now that he understands everything that I do, and really try and be a role model for him.”
Maybe it shouldn’t matter who Sabbatini was, but what he’s become. He will always play fast and say what’s on his mind, but he also gives plenty of his time — and his money — to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund for military families in need. And when he’s playing well, he can beat anybody in the world.
There are reasons for a somewhat kinder, gentler Sabbatini. For one, he watched last September as his wife, Amy, had to be put in the Intensive Care Unit after complications during the birth of their third child, Bodhi. Sabbatini also had his own medical issues late last year, being diagnosed with skin cancer on his face that required minor surgery.
Thus, the reason behind his switch to a larger hat, a la Greg Norman. These experiences also explain his gradual personality shift.
“It’s been a tough road,” he said. “So it definitely is kind of a turning of a new leaf, so it really does feel good. It does feel like a fresh start in a sense.”
One thing remains constant: Sabbatini won’t back down, whether it’s being asked a tough question by a reporter or when Yang cut his once-commanding five-shot lead to one with three holes left Sunday.
Sabbatini responded with a clutch 16-foot birdie at the 16th hole to restore his lead to two and weathered the rest of the Bear Trap, along with a a 28-minute lightning delay, to two-putt the final hole and move back into golf’s inner circle by qualifying for this week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in Miami.
“After 15, I knew I had to put some pressure back on Y.E.,” Sabbatini said. “Making that putt was a huge bonus.”
Sabbatini, who was once ranked among the top 10 in the world, has always had the skills. Now he’s learning how to control his mood as well as his ball trajectory.
“I commend him for being I guess so emotionally stable,” Yang said of Sabbatini. “Usually if you’re in the front, if you’re running away from somebody, you tend to be a bit nervous. But in Rory’s case, he seemed really calm.”
For most of Sabbatini’s career, he’s been as calm as the 25-mph winds that turned the first three rounds of The Honda Classic into a mini-U.S. Open, where par was your friend.
But just as the winds at PGA National died down, so has some of Sabbatini’s bluster.
“He gets in his own way an awful lot and rubs some people the wrong way,” said Jerry Kelly, who finished third. “I can relate to that because I’m the same type of person. But he usually has the best intentions for everybody else around him. Today, he did not let his emotions get the best of him.”
Good for him!!