Sabbatini gathering himself for the ‘Bear Trap’

Last year, Rory Sabbatini played the ‘Bear Trap’ at PGA National Champion Course, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida at one-under on his way to victory in the Honda Classic.

The rest of the field was one-over for the three-hole stretch from 15 to 17 – just two par-threes and a par-four, but it’s probably the most infamous three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour.

It was good enough to give him a one-stroke lead over YE Yang and it came in the beginning of a purple patch for the player as he recorded three early-season top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.

Last year, the 15th and 17th holes at the course ranked as the two most difficult par-threes on the PGA Tour. Combined, they played to an average score of 0.91 shots above par. Relatively speaking, the 16th was a breeze (0.27 shots above par) – but still ranked among the 50 toughest par-fours on the PGA Tour last year.

As he prepared to defend his title, Sabbatini talked about the ‘Bear Trap’: “There’s nothing in front of you that’s a surprise – you can see everything out there that’s in front of you and I think that’s a lot of the problem, too, because you can see what waits,” he said.

“So there’s no area for bail out, there’s no area for miscue – you’ve got to be able to just step into the shot and really just gear down and hit the shot and not try and control it because the course is going to be tough out there and you never know which direction the wind is going to come from, so you really have to commit to it 100 per cent. I think that’s what really helped me out here last year,” he added.

He’s not in a great space ahead of his title defence: The last few weeks haven’t exactly gone well with missed cuts in each of his last three starts. But it was a second-round 80 at Riviera that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

“I just decided it’s time; I can’t just continue to try to and get around the golf course and try and escape,” Sabbatini said. “We have to try and improve the whole situation.”

The other half of the “we” he was referring to is swing coach Rick Smith.

In earnest, Smith and Sabbatini began talking about 18 months ago. After the Northern Trust Open, though, is when they got to work.

Sabbatini missed the cut last week in Mexico, too, but he feels comfortable as he returns to the site of his last victory. “We spent some time focusing on just getting the swing on the right angles, right planes and just shortening it up,” Sabbatini said. “It’s been an adjustment, but I think I’m finally starting to grab the concept and really feel like I’m more natural with it.”

And as the world’s top golfers gear themselves up for the Masters in April, Sabbatini is joined by fellow South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Trevor Immelman, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Goosen and Els are not on the list of invitees to Augusta National – yet. But they have to produce compelling performances this week and in the next little while if they are to be added to the Masters field.

Sabbatini is in the Masters already. But he will want to do as well through the ‘Bear Trap’ as he did last year to get into gear again.

With additional reporting from pgatour.com

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