Biggest change of the year: Sabbatini silent

Rory Sabbatini, SI, September 24
Michael J. LeBrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography
Rory Sabbatini made news on and off the golf course in 2007.

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — A new year on the PGA Tour always brings about some degree of change. Some players have new equipment deals. Others have pledged to get into better shape.

Perhaps the biggest change at Kapalua is Rory Sabbatini.

He's gone silent.

Sabbatini is a spunky South African with tons of firepower in his game who is coming off his best season on the PGA Tour. He won at Colonial, played in the final group in two other events, was the only player to finish in the top 10 at all four playoff events, wound up fourth in the FedEx Cup and played on his first Presidents Cup team.

That's not what made his year so memorable to the public, however, and it ended on a sour note.

Sabbatini is never bashful about saying whatever is on his mind, which is why he didn't blush when stating that Woods looked "beatable as ever" after losing a final-round lead to him at the Wachovia Championship.

Actions proved far more powerful than words, however. His peers roundly criticized him - some publicly, most privately - when he withdrew last month from the final round of the Target World Challenge, pocketing last-place money of $170,000.

This wasn't directed at Woods, the tournament host who arranged for sponsorship of a $5.5 million purse at a tournament that raises money to educate children. But it was different from a WD at a regular PGA Tour event because a.) the size of the last-place check, b.) it was guaranteed money in the silly season and c.) his bold challenge to Woods.

More than anything, in the words of Mark Calcavecchia, it was "Rory being Rory."

Sabbatini's agent later said he withdrew because of shin splints, that he went home Saturday night to get them worked on, but there was no improvement and Sabbatini didn't want to risk it. This rang hollow, however, because locker room attendants said he packed up Saturday afternoon and gave away all his gear - sweaters, shoes, balls.

Tournament officials had no idea what happened to his courtesy car until late Sunday night or early Monday morning. Turns out his caddie had it, presumably giving the boss a ride to the airport.

So what really happened?

Asked on Tuesday if he had a few minutes, Sabbatini politely said he was in a rush to leave, and when asked if the next day would be better, he kept walking. After his pro-am Wednesday, he again said he didn't have time.

"I'm done talking to you guys," he said.

Approached a few minutes later at his locker, Sabbatini said, "I have nothing to say."

Not even about his change in golf equipment?

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