Sabbatini is a Texas star now and joins some elite company having won both the Dallas/Fort Worth golf tournaments at Colonial in 2007 and on Sunday at the HP Byron Nelson at TPC Four Seasons Resort.
Other golfers who have completed the “DFW Double” are Ben Crenshaw, Roberto De Vicenzo, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Bruce Devlin, Jack Nicklaus, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Watson, Bruce Lietzke, Nick Price, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Julius Boros.
The buzz early in the week before the start of the 2009 HP Byron Nelson Championship was all about defending champion Adam Scott, Ryder Cup star Anthony Kim and the legend of golf who received the very first Byron Nelson Prize.
The Salesmanship Club initiated the Byron Nelson Prize to honor the tournament namesake and their dear friend Byron Nelson. The prize is presented to a person or organization who in the golf world exemplifies the ideals of giving back, that Byron personified throughout his life.
Mr. Palmer as he is known today in the formal world of golf though still affectionately called “Arnie” by his army of fans came in person to Texas to receive the award named after one of his early mentors in the game of golf and life.
“This is a great pleasure to be able to say a few words about Byron Nelson, who was my hero and a guy that I suppose other than my father I probably got more from Byron and the things that he did in golf than probably any other pro or person.”
Scott who has been struggling with his game remains optimistic about a quick recovery and comeback in a game where nothing is guaranteed.
“It was disappointing to miss the cut at the Masters and THE PLAYERS by just one shot because I didn't play all that badly, and I really felt like I needed to get some more rounds under my belt and missing the cut doesn't get that accomplished.”
“You miss cuts some weeks and then you win the following week. I think it's just one round away from being back on track again. I think the confidence will come with just that one round.”
Anthony Kim who last won an individual tournament last July at Tiger’s AT&T National has recommitted himself to a fitness regiment to get him back into the shape he was playing college golf at Oklahoma State.
“I hired my trainer from Oklahoma, and we've been doing a lot of medicine balls and just getting back into shape. I know that's going to end up helping, even though right now around the greens I'm losing a little bit of touch because we are lifting weights and doing other things.
"But once that goes away, once the soreness and all that goes away, my scores are going to come down, and hopefully I'll see some more tournament wins.”
“I really have no idea how I'm going to play this week, but I know I've been working hard and working on the right things. Unfortunately the scores haven't shown it. I haven't had great finishes lately, but I'm still grinding, still working hard, and hopefully one of these weeks I'll break through and get the ball rolling good.”
“I know I'm a better player right now than I was last year. I hear from—whether it's players or other people, they say that my game has fallen off and whatnot, but it's not. I believe in myself, and I know that the good scores are coming. I just have to be patient.
"I think I'll be a lot better player than I was last year at the end of this year. I just have to stay positive, which is hard sometimes, but just keep practicing and keep working out and do the right things.”
Ken Duke and James Nitties shot 65s to let their clubs do the talking on the first day of the tournament.
James Nitties a PGA TOUR rookie who birdied his last four holes to open with a five-under par 65 on Thursday. “I've led about three or four events this year and I haven't really closed them out like I wanted to. I'm just not going to get ahead of myself this week.
"As I said, it wasn't my best ball-striking day, and I got away with a good score, so hopefully I can start playing really well and finish off a tournament that I can be satisfied with.”
Nitties, 26 and single on the PGA TOUR is focusing a bit more on his game. “Me and my caddie are on an alcohol ban for six weeks. I don't drink alcohol much, but once a week I like to go out and have a couple beers after the tournament is over, and we're off all that.
"My main focus is because I'm playing five weeks in a row I'm going to be working hard on my fitness. I don't like alcohol anyway, so I'm not an alcoholic or anything.”
Duke, 40 first came to the PGA TOUR through Q-School in 2003 and then as a Nationwide Tour Graduate in 2006. “I've had three good years in a row. Like I was telling these guys, I think sometimes you press a little harder, and I think that's what I'm doing.
"I'm thinking instead of really preparing yourself, you're just coming out here and going through the motions, and it doesn't work that way. These guys are good out here, so that's the logo of the TOUR and the saying with the TOUR, and you've got to be ready to go when it's time to go.”
Nitties would shot three more rounds in the 60s and finish 12th alone. Duke did not fare as well with a one-over par 71 in the third round and ended up T23.
Rory Sabbatini, Brian Davis, Dustin Johnson and D.A. Points, four of the top five finishers at week’s end shot 68 on Thursday. The other Scott McCarron opened with a 66 and finished on Sunday with a 62.
In Round two, Justin Leonard followed a Thursday 75 with a Friday 63. Not only did he make the cut which came at one-under par 139 he moved up 132 spots to T36.
Davis Love III had a similar one-day turnaround shooting 64 after a 73 and was T27 at the midpoint of the tournament.
Rory Sabbatini shot 64 after a Thursday 68 to get it to eight-under and a first place tie with John Mallinger.
“I was playing very well, and I just got sick during Wachovia and lost a lot of energy, and I think just made a bad choice of playing while I was sick. I think a few bad things crept into my swing that week and it carried over into the following week. But luckily I've kind of worked that out a little bit, and getting back on track.”
Sabbatini made a switch in clubs just prior to the Masters this year. “Obviously I think we've seen so far since I've started my new family of Taylor Made, it's really been a great relationship so far.
"Obviously I'm loving my new equipment; the new driver is working great. I just couldn't hope for anything more. It just seems like it's an opportunity that came about a year and a half too late.”
Mallinger shot 65 after an opening 67 and continues to build on a strong T3 finish on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass two weeks ago.
“I think THE PLAYERS kind of got me off to a good start. I was playing well, just hadn't really got anything going, and THE PLAYERS really kind of gave me a lot of confidence, being able to play with those players, the best players in the world coming down the stretch, and finishing strong is something important to me, and I've kind of taken that in the last couple weeks.”
The golfer who will turn 30 this Sept. 25 bogeyed Nos. 11 &12 and finished strong with four threes on the scorecard- birdie 15, eagle 16, par 17 and birdie 18. He also eagled the other par-five No. 7 on the course.
“I was proud of myself for coming back at the end after a couple bogeys and getting right back in the tournament. For a while it was kind of slipping away. Now we're in a perfect spot.”
Englishman Brian Davis who is red hot after T5 finishes the last two weeks at THE PLAYERS and the Valero Texas Open. He had a benign tumor removed last year in addition to two herniated disks due to bad swings he was making. The 34-year old has basically rebuilt his golf swing around the limitations of his body.
“This is the first time I've been fit for a few years, and I've been able to do a lot of stuff on my game and practice a lot more and focus mentally on what I want to do rather than how I'm going to feel in the morning.”
“I didn't really know until I actually got fit, what a mistake it (playing hurt) was. It's one of those things, I wasn't exempt, and it was a case of I could still play. Us golfers, we don't like to lay down, and it's one of them things where I could still play even though it limited me to what I could actually do.”
Jesper Parnevik made the cut this week starting 67-68. His caddie Lance Ten Broeck did not compete this week after beating his boss by three strokes at the Valero Texas Open last week.
Notables to miss the cut include local Texan Chad Campbell and local resident Anthony Kim, PLAYERS runner-up Ian Poulter, defending champion Adam Scott who has now missed his last six cuts in a row, David Toms and Rich Beam who has a charity initiative called “Beem Fore Behm” for the young man named Rich Behm who was paralyzed from the waist down at the Cowboys’ training facility when it collapsed in a storm earlier this month.
With poor golfing weather forecasted for Saturday afternoon the third round began at 7:30 AM in groups of three off both Nos. 1 and 10 tees with the leaders teeing off at 9:30 AM.
Both Sabbatini and Mallinger shot 65s to remain tied for the lead. Their lead increased from one stroke over five people to two strokes over three people. However going into Sunday’s final round there remain 14 players within five strokes of their lead.
Sabbatini’s round of 65 included six birdies and a bogey. In the middle of the round he birdied five of seven holes.
“The putter was working today. Obviously I made a lot of key par saves, too. The putter has definitely been keeping me in play this week. That's something that going into tomorrow's (final) round I'm going to have to find to alleviate some of the pressure in my game, putting the drives in the fairway a little more frequently, and obviously making it easier on myself to put the ball closer to the holes.”
Does Rory the South African and now resident of Dallas like being in the lead and being pursued?
“It's fun. It puts a little bit of pressure on us, too, because you know guys are going to go out there and shoot low numbers and the scores are out there. So if you want to win this golf tournament, you're going to have to go out there and do your job well tomorrow and probably shoot a low number.”
Mallinger’s 65 was bogey-free and appeared to be a little surprised he was still only tied for the lead after three rounds.
“I didn't make many mistakes. I kind of had a game plan going in and I stuck with it. I executed, and that was the biggest thing. Being that leader, it was always a little different feeling. So when you come in with five birdies, if someone would have told me I was going to shoot 65 and still be tied for the lead, I would have said they were crazy.”
Mallinger’s comments almost dismissed other contenders such as Brian Davis who played in the threesome with Sabbatini and Mallinger on Saturday and shot 66. Davis round included seven birdies and three bogies though he was bogeyless the last six holes and made three birdies on that stretch heading to the clubhouse.
D.A. Points a Nationwide Tour Graduate shot 65 to move into contention at T3 with Dustin Johnson and Brian Davis. “It's funny, I've won four times on the Nationwide, and not one of those weeks did I walk in going, oh, I'm going to win this week. You play, you think one shot at a time, and all of a sudden it either works out or it doesn't. I'm going to keep doing that, and if it works out, fantastic.”
Scott McCarron went out early in the day Sunday and shot the tournament best score of 62. After finishing and not knowing if it would be good enough for a playoff or possibly even a win he remained optimistic similar to James Driscoll waiting for Zach Johnson to finish last week at the Texas Valero Open.
“I hope my day is not over. I'd like to see something happen where at least I get a chance. He's got a couple-shot lead. He's got some holes that will test you coming down the stretch, so you never know.”
Third round co-leader John malinger faltered and shot an even par 70 to finish in sixth place alone.
Brian Davis playing in the second to last twosome shot a bogey-free six birdie 64 and made the day’s best charge at Sabbatini.
“(I am) obviously ecstatic with the way I played. I'm disappointed I didn't win, but all you can do is put yourself in position and commit to your shots and try and shoot as low as you can. Pretty much that's what I did. Unfortunately it was not enough.”
Davis continued his hot streak with another top five finish—this time second place alone. “Today I holed the putts under pressure coming down the stretch, and to me that was a good sign, and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks.”
Sabbatini took care of business and shot a Sunday 64 to nail down a two stroke victory his first since the 2007 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. In doing so his 68-64-65-64=261 set a new tournament scoring record.
“I managed to get off to a good start, putting the ball in the fairway, putting it on the greens and giving myself some looks at it, and then obviously things developed pretty well. It was evident again today that my putter was still on form and my short game was still performing well.”
“This tournament is very special. I've had reasonably good success here in the past, and it's one that I wish I had have been able to win it and look up and see Byron sitting there at the 18th green.
"It would have meant a lot. But Peggy being here today was special, and obviously his name and his legend lives on with this tournament and with the Salesmanship Club.”
There was no laughter in Sabbatini’s post victory media interview. Only thoughts of Byron not being here for his win, one of his best friends he saw at the Masters who has cancer and Phil Mickelson’s disclosure earlier this week that his wife Amy has breast cancer.
Though maybe that is the sweetness to victory whether it is in golf or in life. Play your best, do your best and be a good friend who really cares to someone.
Rory Sabbatini, mate, love the pink shirt and pink ribbon- keep roaring on!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer. He follows the PGA TOUR volunteering for the tournaments and working part time for NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and The Golf Channel. He resides in Jacksonville Beach, FL near the PGA TOUR headquarters and home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.