IRVING, Texas (AP) — Rory Sabbatini had a perfect reprieve from golf the night before the final round of the Byron Nelson Championship. He was home with his family.
“I had the ability to go home and battle with my children and other stuff, so my focus wasn’t ever thinking about golf,” Sabbatini said. “I came out here feeling very fresh and very relaxed. … I went out there with the intent of having some fun.”
Relaxed, though filled with emotions for some friends fighting cancer, Sabbatini shot a closing 6-under 64 Sunday for a two-stroke victory over late-charging Brian Davis in Lord Byron’s tournament.
It was the first win for Sabbatini since 2007 at Colonial, which is even closer to his Fort Worth home. He will return to Hogan’s Alley next week as that tournament’s most recent champion.
Phil Mickelson withdrew from the Nelson and Colonial, where he won last year, suspending his playing schedule indefinitely after his wife Amy’s diagnosis of breast cancer.
Sabbatini wore a pink shirt and, like most players and caddies, a pink ribbon in a show of support for the Mickelsons.
Then after his fifth PGA Tour victory, Sabbatini went from smiles to tears welling in his eyes when talking about the rapidly deteriorating health of a buddy with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who came to the Masters last month.
“This is a guy that’s 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, and showed up at Augusta, and he looks about 85 years old and pretty much just skin and bones,” Sabbatini said. “It really puts everything we do out here into perspective.”
Despite a closing bogey, Sabbatini ended 19-under 261 at TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas. That broke the tournament mark of 18 under set by Loren Roberts and playoff loser Steve Pate in 1999, when the Cottonwood Valley course also was used.
When the final putt dropped, Sabbatini’s 5-year-old son and 3-year old daughter – with “Team Sabo” inscribed on their clothing – charged to greet him with hugs and kisses.
“The beauty about it is just seeing the innocent joy in their eyes,” said Sabbatini, who then embraced his wife Amy and Peggy Nelson, the widow of Byron Nelson.
Davis shot a bogey-free 64 for his third consecutive top-five finish, including The Player’s Championship. Still looking for his first victory, the 34-year-old Englishman was a runner-up for the third time in his career.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t win. But all you can do is put yourself in position,” said Davis, whose streak of 20 consecutive rounds of par or better is the longest on the PGA Tour.
D.A. Points (65) was 16 under for his career-best finish of third. At 15 under were Dustin Johnson (66) and Scott McCarron (62), who had birdies on the final three holes to match the lowest closing round ever at the Nelson and finish one stroke off the TPC Four Seasons record.
Sabbatini earned $1.17 million for the victory, pushing his career earnings to just more than $20 million.
Sabbatini’s approach at the 431-yard No. 4 hole to 3 feet, and he had another 3-footer at the par 3 that followed. He missed the fairway at No. 6 for a bogey, but then made a 7-foot birdie at the 542-yard seventh.
“I knew I just needed to get off to a good start,” Sabbatini said. “I was absolutely ecstatic to get things rolling.”
Still, Davis was within a stroke when he made a 26-foot eagle putt at the 546-yard No. 16 to go 17 under. Sabbatini shook his head while watching from the 16th tee box.
But Sabbatini responded with a tap-in birdie on the same hole, after his 21-foot eagle try slid just past and sent him crouching in disbelief that it didn’t go in the hole.
Davis, who had four birdies in a five-hole stretch midway through the round, couldn’t get any closer. He needed a 13-footer to save par at the 198-yard 17th after his tee shot landed 56 feet away and his first putt caught up on a ridge.
That allowed Sabbatini to enjoy the champion’s walk up 18.
“Obviously this tournament is very special,” Sabbatini said. “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. … What a wonderful name to be associated with now.”