Sabbatini joins rare Texas air after Nelson victory

May, 25, 2009
05/25/09
8:31
AM ET

He is perhaps best known for being the game's foremost Tiger Woods antagonist, so there's little doubt Rory Sabbatini would enjoy this current 2009 victory tote board. Rory: 1, TW 1.

Hey, at least Tiger's hoops team won Sunday.

If you've come here seeking this week's edition of the Weekly 18, congratulations. This is it … sorta.

The usual W18 format will return in a few weeks. Instead, I offer up a modified version of "Swing Thoughts," looking at the Sunday victories of Sabbatini, Paul Casey, Yani Tseng and Michael Allen in what turned out to be an entertaining and emotional week in the world of professional golf.

1. The following players all have something in common: Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Roberto De Vicenzo, Julius Boros, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Bruce Devlin, Bruce Lietzke, Nick Price, Ben Crenshaw, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Each is a career winner of the Dallas-Fort Worth Double, capturing both the Byron Nelson and the Colonial during their varying degrees of illustrious careers. And on Sunday, this list grew to 14, as Sabbatini claimed the Nelson title to go along with his victory at Hogan's Alley two years ago. Impressive company for a guy whose five career wins are the fewest among anyone who has pulled off this feat.

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2. Shot of the week: With Sabbatini leading by two strokes on the penultimate tee box in the final round, I would have excused him had he stayed far away from the tucked pin over water on the par-3 17th hole, instead aiming left and hoping for a two-putt par. Never one to shy away from a challenge, though, Sabo stiffed one to about 6 feet, made the birdie putt and went to the final hole with a near-insurmountable lead.

"The numbers just set up perfectly for me to hit a cut 8-iron," he later said. "You know, it's too easy to try and get a little cautious, then play safe and make a mistake. I decided to pick the shot I wanted just left of the hole and cut it back to the hole and just be aggressive. I knew that I had the perfect club so just go ahead and hit it, and it worked out perfectly for me. And then obviously making the putt was an added bonus because it gave me that extra little cushion coming up the last hole."

3. Two of the PGA Tour's hottest players during the month of May were hardly on the radar screen at the end of April.

Entering the year's fifth month, Brian Davis had competed in a dozen events with a top result of T-14 at the Shell Houston Open. Since then, he's shot par or better in all 16 rounds, finishing T-38 at Quail Hollow, T-5 at both the Players Championship and Texas Open and runner-up at the Byron Nelson.

Meanwhile, John Mallinger has also seen his best finish in Houston, where he finished T-6, but had no other results of better than T-25 all season. In May, though, he finished T-3 at the Players, T-47 at the Texas Open (after entering the weekend with a share of second place) and solo sixth at the Nelson.

4. It's rare that a veteran player would pass up a chance to qualify for the British Open in favor of taking part in a Monday pro-am. It's even rarer when that player is a native of England who spent years on the European Tour before competing full-time in the U.S. And yet, that's the exact situation for Davis, who will eschew a qualifier in favor of fulfilling a promise to tournament organizers at Colonial.

Recalled Davis: "I said to them, 'I want to play in your golf tournament. I love the golf course. Can I put myself forward for an invite? I'll play in the Monday pro-am and I'll withdraw from the British Open qualifier. If you're willing to give me a start, then I can plan my schedule.'"

Officials did just that, extending an invitation to Davis, and he will remain true to his word by showing up to the course Monday. Then again, he's not exactly giving up on hopes of competing at Turnberry, either. "The way I look at it is, if I play well enough," he said, "I'll make the British Open anyway."

5. True to his name, D.A. Points earned some valuable points with the Las Colinas gallery Sunday.

After sealing a final-round 65 with a birdie on the last hole to claim a career-best third-place finish, Points pointed into the bleachers and bellowed, "Thank you for supporting us!" multiple times to everyone within earshot. During the current economic downturn, pros have been advised that it's more important than ever to show appreciation toward fans for supporting the PGA Tour.

Expect to see -- and hear -- more exultation like that of Points throughout the season.

6. How often does a player finish T-8 in a PGA Tour event … and it's still not the most significant development of his week? (That's a rhetorical question. But if you felt compelled to respond, the correct answer is: not often.)

That was exactly the case for Briny Baird, whose rounds of 69-64-67-69 at the Nelson were nice, but paled in comparison to his early-week accomplishment. In San Diego on Monday, Baird hit this wedge shot from atop the Omni Hotel into a bull's-eye in the Petco Park outfield, securing free lettuce wraps from sponsor P.F. Chang's China Bistro for -- wait for it -- every single person in America. (The reward can be redeemed through the company's Web site.) Incidentally, Baird's share of eighth at the Nelson earned him $182,000. The rest of us, however, got absolutely nothing -- not even an appetizer.

7. Danny Lee looked pretty comfortable at TPC Las Colinas, shooting a final-round 66 to finish T-13. That should serve as a good sign for the youngster, who moved into a house on nearby Hogan Drive last Monday and will call the course his home track, despite having only played there once before the tournament.

As for his hopes of earning PGA Tour membership through sponsors' exemptions rather than Q-school, Lee made his biggest stride yet, after a pair of missed cuts and a T-38 in his previous three starts. "I'm getting really close, and each tournament I get better and better," said Lee, who already owns full privileges on the Euro Tour based on his victory at the Johnnie Walker Classic earlier this season. "But there [are so many] things I have to learn, how to control the nerves and those last putts there. Hopefully I'll do well next week."

Lee has been granted an invitation to compete at Colonial as well.

8. From Darren Clarke's lending support in the form of a phone call, to PGA Tour players' wearing pink ribbons on their hats, to John Daly's donning pink pants, it was nice to see the initial outpouring of support for Amy Mickelson's battle with breast cancer. Expect the professional ranks to continue to rally around the Mickelson family until Amy is back on the course, fully healthy and watching her husband in a competitive environment once again.

9. I recently wrote about the half-dozen current and former pro jocks who were attempting to qualify for next month's U.S. Open. Well, bad news for NFL quarterbacks Tony Romo and Billy Joe Tolliver, ex-NHL goalies Grant Fuhr and Mike Dunham, and former MLBers Chris Sabo and Erik Hanson: You were sacked, you let one go by, and you struck out. Each of the six wannabe competitors failed to make it out of local qualifying for the festivities at Bethpage Black, ensuring that the only athletes involved in the tournament will be, you know, golfers.

10. Paul Casey is one of the best players in the world. Don't believe me? Just consult the latest Official World Golf Ranking, which shows the BMW PGA Championship winner at No. 3 after Sunday's 1-stroke triumph over Ross Fisher.

"Wow, yeah, that's pretty cool," Casey said of being ranked behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. "I haven't really thought about it too much. I had no idea, I think, until [someone] told me earlier this week, that I would move to No. 3. But I'm excited about that."

It's a pretty momentous leap for a guy who began the year at No. 41 and was seventh before the BMW. That's what happens when you win three times worldwide in the first five months of the season, with victories at the star-studded Houston Open before Masters week and in Abu Dhabi and Wentworth, two of the better Euro Tour fields on the calendar.

11. Surprise, surprise. Days after winning the Irish Open as an amateur, Shane Lowry eschewed a spot on this year's GB&I Walker Cup team in favor of striking while the iron was hot and turning pro right away.

"My Irish Open win has provided me with a unique opportunity to ease myself into the professional game by playing in some of the biggest tournaments in Europe over the coming months, with a view to preparing myself for the 2010 European Tour season," Lowry said. "I can now go out on tour under no pressure and just concentrate on playing golf and enjoying the whole experience."

Just don't expect instant success. When he won last week, Lowry was the 16th-ranked amateur in the world -- certainly a player to watch, but hardly the cream of the crop. By all accounts, he'll be a solid pro in due time, but it might not happen nearly as quickly as it did for his buddy Rory McIlroy.

12. Michael Allen's name usually comes up once per year -- and it's not during a major championship week.

If Allen has a claim to fame, it's that he's been to the PGA Tour's Q-school on 13 occasions and has earned his card a record nine times. Not many similarities with Arnold Palmer in that statistic, but on Sunday he joined The King as the only players to win the Senior PGA Championship in their 50-and-over debut.

Allen, who reached the big Five-Oh on Jan. 31, is fully exempt on the PGA Tour, thanks to finishing 106th on last year's money list. Since he hadn't competed on the Champions Tour previously, he needed a special invitation from the PGA of America, then made good use of it, following an opening-round 74 with scores of 66-67-67 to win by a pair of strokes over Larry Mize. Shoulda seen it coming. Allen is a guy who wins every 10 years or so, like clockwork. He took the 1989 Scottish Open and the 1998 Greater Austin Open on the Nationwide Tour and now owns the 2009 Senior PGA trophy.

13. Back in 1979, a 22-year-old kid named Mark O'Meara faced off against reigning champion John Cook in the finals of the U.S. Amateur at Canterbury GC.

"What I remember most was John was very favored over me, which I tried to use that as an advantage because he was coming off of a 1978 U.S. Amateur win trying to win back to back, and so I looked at it I was the underdog," O'Meara recalled in a Wednesday news conference. "And especially John being an Ohio boy, going to Ohio State, growing up down there in Columbus, I felt like, well, why put any more pressure on me. If I lose, I'm losing to the best amateur at the time. So it wasn't that big a deal."

The big deal turned out to be O'Meara himself, who defeated Cook, 8 and 7, to win the title. Thirty years later, both were back at Canterbury for the Senior PGA this past week. Though they didn't make it another head-to-head battle for the title, each comported himself nicely, but once again O'Meara came out on top, finishing T-14, one stroke ahead of Cook.

14. After 31 years of being a staple on the LPGA Tour schedule, the Corning Classic came to a dramatic close Sunday. Perhaps there is some irony in that the final champion was more than a decade younger than the tournament itself.

Yani Tseng claimed a 1-stroke victory over Soo-Yun Kang and Paula Creamer, and though it was just Tseng's second career victory -- along with last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship -- the 20-year-old has established herself among the top players in the world.

Afterward, all talk was about the finale in upstate New York.

"It was sad," said Tseng, who birdied two of her last three holes to shoot a final-round 67. "But thanks for Corning for putting on such a great tournament for 30 years, and this is my first year and it's the last year. I wish I could come back here to visit the town, and I'll be missing you a lot."

15. Stat of the week: Through five holes in Saturday's third round at the Corning Classic, Eunjung Yi was 6-under-par, thanks to eagles on the par-4 opening hole and the par-5 second and fifth with a pair of pars sprinkled in. While it's hardly shocking that Yi couldn't keep up that pace -- that would equate to a score of, ahem, 21-under 51 for the round -- it should be considered a disappointment that she finished with just one birdie and four bogeys, playing her final 13 holes in 3-over-par for a benign total of 69.

16. Big hullaballoo on the Internet this past week surrounding this Time.com feature, in which the company Play Golf Designs is suggested to be "some kind of golf-escort service." Not even close, says founder Nisha Sadekar, who was incensed by the piece. Instead, PGD offers golfers a chance to interact with top-level LPGA and Futures Tour professionals on the course; there's nothing untoward about it by any means.

Memo to Time.com: From corporate outings to clinics to, yes, hanging with Regular Joe foursomes, public appearance fees for pay have always been part of the professional golfer's repertoire -- and that goes for both men and women. If you're going to refer to the women of PGD as "escorts," then you might as well extend that notion to the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, too, since neither is immune to taking part in similar functions.

17. And the winner is … yet another transplant to the DFW area. One week after South African-turned-Texan Sabbatini was able to sleep in his own bed during tourney week, I'm picking another local resident to win at Colonial. In his past four starts at the event, Rod Pampling has finished T-2, T-12, third and T-6. Fresh off a final-round 65 in which he birdied five of the last six holes at Las Colinas, I'm going with Pamps to claim his first PGA Tour win since 2006 at Bay Hill.

18. Quote of the week: "It's nice to know I weigh less than my luggage now!" -- John Daly via Twitter.

According to Daly, who has spent the past month competing in European Tour events while still suspended from the U.S. circuit and finished T-66 at the BMW on Sunday, he has parlayed recent lap band surgery into a 55-pound weight loss, currently down to 225 on the scale.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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