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Colorful Rory Sabbatini is the key to FedEx Cup's success

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Rory Sabbatini
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Rory Sabbatini doesn't hold back on or off the golf course. (Courtesy www.rorysabbatini.com)

The PGA Tour's much vaunted FedEx Cup - the first of four playoff tournaments, The Barclays, having just concluded - needs a compelling champion like South Africa's Rory Sabbatini in order to survive, writes WorldGolf.com's Chris Baldwin from Westchester Country Club.

HARRISON, N.Y. - If only Rory Sabbatini could get Tiger Woods to ride in a golf cart with him. Then Sabbatini could surely do some damage.

Just ask his sister Shelly.

In a story that's an underground legend in the University of Arizona golf program, Sabbatini's sister was riding with him in a cart at Tucson's Starr Pass Country Club, watching him play, when ... well, let's let 'Zona Coach Rick LaRose tell it.

"Rory was driving fast - he's always driving a little fast - and I guess his sister wasn't paying attention and he took a turn and she fell right out of the golf cart and went rolling down the fairway," LaRose said. "It's one of the funniest stories we have with Rory."

No word on whether Shelly found it so hilarious. I've played Starr Pass. If you fall out of a cart, there's a good chance you're landing on a cactus. Sabbatini did stop for his sister, though, unlike with Ben Crane.

LaRose told the story over the phone from Tucson as Sabbatini tried to win the PGA Tour's first FedEx Cup playoff tournament in the Big Apple's shadow.

Why should you care about Sabbatini turning his sister into a rolling blur on the fairway, you ask? Because Sabbatini's the key to whether these newfangled playoffs with a point system that seems designed to confuse (why 5,400 points for second again?) work or not. If more sports fans decide they want to learn about Sabbatini - his sister dumping, his love of dogs that would make putting the 5-foot-9 Sabbatini in the same room with Michael Vick spare us more months of talk, his Bode Miller-worthy tricked out RV - the FedEx Cup will have been a rousing success.

After one Cup tournament, it's apparent that the PGA Tour desperately needs someone besides Tiger to win that $10 million retirement fund grand prize that seems about as real as those killers O.J. searched for. Someone who can be a star...an interesting star.

Look, 40-year-old Steve Stricker makes for a nice redemption story to read as you slurp your Cheerios Monday morning. Maybe he and his wife can get a Lifetime movie that no one will watch out of their "I'll fire you as my caddie but still love you in the morning" tale.

But Stricker has less staying power than a High School musical star. He'll be forgotten by Tuesday.

"That's really nice for him," a man could be overheard telling his wife as Stricker raised some type of crystal trophy that you only see at pro golf tournaments and fifth-grade soccer banquets. "Now what do you want for dinner?"

If Sabbatini wins one of these Cup tournaments, no one will be hurrying off to debate Boston Market vs. Country Kitchen. Especially not if he sticks his tongue out at Tiger while flashing the check.

A Tiger would destroy FedEx Cup

It would be absolutely devastating for the FedEx Cup if Woods ends up winning this thing. Not just because he's already been allowed to skip the first of the four tournaments without penalty and made a mockery of what was the best field golf has seen in a late August tournament in years, either.

The biggest problem with Tiger winning is then it really wouldn't mean anything. No one not on PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem's PR staff in Point Verde is comparing a FedEx Cup run to a 15-shot win at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach.

But if Sabbatini wins, it's huge for him and golf. He wouldn't really have anything over Tiger Woods. But you can be sure it would annoy Tiger that Sabbatini thought he had something over him.

And Sabbatini would think it. Would he ever think it.

It turns out there is a little more to that story about Sabbatini crowing how he beat Woods in the final round of that NCAA Championship - even though Woods won the tournament by five shots.

"Tiger was up by 10 going into the final round, but going to 15 Rory had cut it to two shots," LaRose said. "That's just how he plays. He doesn't believe anything is impossible. He just keeps coming, trying to win.

"He doesn't believe you're better than him. No matter who you are. He made Tiger sweat a little."

Of course, then Tiger blew him away on the final four holes, which doesn't change the fact this guy annoys Tiger like no other. Sabbatini will walk up to Woods in locker rooms uninvited by the king. You know how many other players not in the inner circle like Jim Furyk do that? None.

I'll admit I've done a 180 on Sabbatini since seeing his act in person. There his voice is in a Westchester locker room that's surprisingly gym-like for such a swanky club, carrying over the cubicles even as Stricker's friends celebrate his win.

"Damn disappointing," Sabbatini thunders. "So damn disappointing."

Sabbatini should have won this tournament after a five-birdie front nine that tied him with Stricker. But Ernie Els could have too if he hadn't sent a bunker shot all of six inches. And Els is long gone on his Gulfstream while Sabbatini burns.

"Rory was a great teammate," his college coach is saying on the phone. "He was never a very selfish person. He was always interested in how the team was doing, if he could help his teammates get more out of their game."

LaRose wants you to know the Sabbatini he knows. He laughs when asked if Sabbatini held a high profile on a campus ruled by its basketball stars.

"All of our athletes are pretty well known and you don't have Rory on a campus without people knowing about him," LaRose shots back. "You don't miss Rory."

You know Sabbatini thought he was as big as any of Lute Olson's ballers. If casual sports fans start noticing him, this FedEx Cup is a guaranteed success.

If not, it might as well be falling out of a speeding golf cart and rolling down the fairway.

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Rory Sabbatini - FedEx Cup Barclays

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • rcclair@comcast.net

    Ron C Clair wrote on: Aug 29, 2007

    Been around the game for a long time - Sabattitineii, (sic) is a loudmouthed jerk. There have been many less than nice guys who can not only hit it, but can play.. He's one of them!