Sabbatini hangs on for victory

South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini went to the top of the US Tour money list in the best possible fashion.

The 29-year-old from Durban, twice a runner-up in his five previous starts this season, won the Nissan Open in Los Angeles by one stroke from defending champion Adam Scott.

Ireland's Paul McGinley finished on three over. Graeme McDowell had failed to make the cut.

Sabbatini saw his four-shot overnight lead cancelled out first by crowd favourite Fred Couples and then by American Craig Barlow and Australian Scott, who came through the field with a brilliant seven-under-par 64 in the windy conditions.

But, after Couples and Barlow found trouble at the short 16th, Sabbatini fired his tee shot to five-feet, made the putt and kept the advantage over the two remaining holes.

Although he had three bogeys on his card a one-over 72 gave him his third title on the circuit with a 13-under-par aggregate of 271.

Last year Sabbatini’s main claim to fame was the controversy he sparked at the Booz Allen Classic, storming ahead of playing partner Ben Crane in a protest about the American’s slow play.

He apologised afterwards, but has said since that the “vast majority” of comments from fellow players about the incident were supportive.

His clubs are certainly doing the talking at the moment, though.

Couples, who described some of the crowd cheering him on as “Tiger’s strays” following the withdrawal at halfway of flu-suffering Tiger Woods, lost his chance when he failed to get up and down from sand at the 16th and then failed to birdie the long 17th downwind.

Westwood, who had nothing better than a 17th place finish in 15 starts in America last year, started the final day eight adrift of Sabbatini and, despite birdies at the first two holes, he remained too far back to have a chance of the title.

His performance fills him with confidence heading into next week’s Accenture world match play championship in San Diego.

Westwood, who finished only 142nd on the 2005 American money list, closed with a 22-foot birdie putt and said: 2I hit it pretty good all week and played my best in the toughest weather.

“When I missed greens today I got up and down and that’s one of the most pleasing parts. It’s nice to play so solidly in the last round over here – last year I think my average score was about 77.

“It’s a culmination of the hard work I’ve been doing in the gym and on the range.”

He was 17th on the European Ryder Cup world points list going into the event, but his performance in his first US Tour appearance of the season improves his hopes of earning one of the five places that comes off that table.

As for the American side Couples, 21st in their standings, made a significant move forward, but could not land what would have been only his second victory since 1988.

Meanwhile, Tom Lehman was again showing how keen he is to earn a place at the K Club near Dublin in September – for a match where he is due to captain the United States, of course.

Not since Arnold Palmer in 1963 has anyone attempted to be a playing-captain in the Ryder Cup.

But Lehman has still to announce what he will do if he qualifies and his current form suggests he might.

Two weeks away from his 47th birthday the former Open champion began the final round with a 20-foot eagle putt and moved into a tie for fourth place before slipping back to 10th.

“I’ve been saying all along we want to field the 12 best players that the US has to offer, whoever they are,” he said only last Tuesday.

“I would have to prove to myself that I’m playing really well and I would probably want to get the opinion of the guys on the team.

“That’s so far down the road it’s pure conjecture. I’m not even going to begin to think about it at this point. But I want our players to know how much it means to be a part of that, trying really hard to be on this team myself.

“There is a bit of setting the bar. I want to be on this team and we want to go over and win.”

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