A once-proud University of Arizona sports program served notice this weekend that it might be back on the national radar.
We’re talking, of course, about the alumni of the Wildcat golf team.
Former UA golfer Rory Sabbatini held off a late-surge from Y.E. Yang on Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to hold on for a one-stroke win at the Honda Classic.
The Durban, South Africa-native shot a 9-under-par, 271 to claim the sixth PGA Tour win of his career and an automatic birth into this year’s Master’s.
Sabbatini set a course record on Friday with a commanding 64-shot effort.
His five-stroke lead entering Sunday all but vanished, however, as Yang mounted a comeback. Sabbatini needed a clutch birdie on the 16th to essentially save the tournament and its $1 million winning share.
It was his first Tour win since claiming the HP Byron Nelson Championship in 2009.
Ricky Barnes seems to be finding his stroke. The former Wildcat — who earned his first-career Tour win in 2010 — finished fourth at the Honda Classic, five strokes behind Sabbatini.
The 25 year old appears to have shaken off the back injuries that have plagued him to begin the year and reduced him to just one other start this season.
Barnes finished 72nd at the Northwest Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Said Barnes via Twitter on Sunday:
“2nd week back and a 4th place finish. Good to be back. See you all next in Tampa!! Ricky”
The win for Sabbatini is another in a recent string of successes for the Wildcat alums. Ex-Cat Jim Furyk is coming off a season in which he claimed the PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.
Furyk did not compete in this week’s event.
Where Furyk is reserved and calculating on the course and in the public’s eye, Sabbatini has built a reputation as a risk taker with his club and mouth.
But all that might have changed for the golfer who not only once proclaimed Tiger Woods to be “more beatable than ever,” but is the only player in the history of Woods’ Target World Challenge tournament to withdraw from the off-season event.
But perhaps all that is behind him. His play at the Honda Classic seems to suggest it could be.
Fatherhood certainly could also be a factor in his maturation process.
Said Sabbatini after claiming the tourney hardware on Sunday:
“I’m a passionate golfer, I really am. I love the game of golf and I’ve had my moments.
“I’m not proud of everything I’ve done out here, but I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to be a role model for my children and I know as my wife has said to me, I wouldn’t want my son doing some of the things that I’ve done in the past.
“So I definitely have to take into account that my son is old enough now that he understands everything that I do, and really try and be a role model for him.”