Commentary

Quail Hollow finale full of surprises

Updated: May 8, 2011, 9:57 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The story that played out was the nice one, the fitting one. Two former college teammates, two good friends, slugging it out in a sudden-death playoff.

Then there is the one that didn't happen, but very easily could have, with the bad boy shooting a final-round 65, narrowly missing a birdie putt on the last hole, but still able to walk away with his head held high -- at least in regards to his golf.

Lucas Glover ended up defeating another Clemson alum, Jonathan Byrd, to capture the Wells Fargo Championship, his first tournament title since winning the 2009 U.S. Open.

[+] EnlargeRory Sabbatini
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesRory Sabbatini could have caused an even bigger stir among PGA Tour officials had he won Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Either way, it was a good tale because Byrd -- ranked 183rd in the world last October and worried about staying exempt on the PGA Tour -- was gunning for his third victory in just more than six months.

As it was, Glover, 31, prevailed with a par on the first extra hole, an unlikely victory given that he had missed his past three cuts and was in the midst of a swing change.

Then there was the awkward scenario. What if Rory Sabbatini had won?

The South African found himself in the middle of controversy this week at Quail Hollow, and there would have been a few red-faced folks at the PGA Tour if they had to hand a trophy and more than $1 million to a guy they are allegedly about to suspend.

The details have been trickling out for several days, and there are enough folks in the know providing them to suggest that Sabbatini, who won the Honda Classic in March, is going to have to take a seat on the bench for a few weeks as punishment for his poor behavior.

We can't say so for sure because, well, the PGA Tour won't discuss such things. Unlike every other professional sport that is transparent with player penalties, suspensions and fines, the tour prefers to keep everything in house, better to uphold golf's pristine image.

But Sabbatini ought to be called out for what he did, twice this year embarrassing himself, once by scolding a teenage volunteer who tried to help him find his ball at the Northern Trust Open, and then again last week when he got into a profanity-filled argument with Sean O'Hair during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Of course, if Sabbatini had shot some middling round on Sunday, his transgressions would have flown under the radar until the expected suspension came down, known only because it doesn't take a lot to figure out if a guy isn't playing for an extended period of time.

But Sabbatini played beautifully -- which he seems to do when faced with this kind of predicament. His win at the Honda Classic came just two weeks after his dust-up at Riviera, one that Stewart Cink described to The Associated Press earlier this week. "It was embarrassing for me as a golfer," Cink said. "He did apologize directly to me. I hope he meant it and moved on."

According to several sources, Sabbatini was supposed to send a letter of apology in order to avoid a suspension. Then the incident with O'Hair, witnessed by several, happened last week, and he was back on the hot seat.

Sabbatini refused to set the record straight, referring to all the chatter as "rumors." The PGA Tour said nothing, and officials threatened to cut off interviews with Sabbatini on Sunday if questions dealt with anything other than his round.

With full disclosure, the matter could have been dealt with and everybody moved on. If a prominent player on the PGA Tour, one who has six victories, has acted unprofessionally and is perhaps having to take a seat because of it, shouldn't fans and sponsors know? Why the secrecy?

Sabbatini's climb up the leaderboard, which included three late birdies to put the heat on those behind him after shooting 66-65 on the weekend, was just one aspect of an unusual, wild day.

Of course, there was the sad backdrop that hung over the tournament since Friday when it was learned that golf legend Seve Balelsteros had taken a turn for the worse, later passing away at home in Spain. A horn sounded Sunday at 3:08 p.m. for a moment of silence in Ballesteros' honor, a nice touch.

After that, things got interesting, with Glover, Byrd, Sabbatini and Bill Haas all making a move. So did Padraig Harrington, who ran out of holes, bogeyed the last two, and eventually settled for a tie for ninth -- which came into question when a spectator thought Harrington might have teed off from in front of the markers at the 13th hole.

So you had the surreal scene of Harrington and playing partner Phil Mickelson heading back out to the 13th tee -- while play was still going on -- to examine the spot from where Harrington believed he hit. Because the mistake was not corrected, Harrington would have been disqualified -- forfeiting more than $150,000 in prize money.

In the end, there was no conclusive evidence that he had erred, so no penalty was inflicted, saving Harrington the indignity of being DQ'd for the second time this year. "It's not an Irish thing, it's a Harrington thing," he quipped afterward.

Glover, too, found himself what could have been an awkward rules predicament when his tee shot at the 18th flew well left into the gallery -- and came to rest up against a spectator's back pocket. Because the ball rolled, he could replace it. But as Glover stood over it to play to the final green, the ball rolled down the hill.

A penalty was avoided because Glover had not grounded his club -- he even said to rules officials that he would not ground his club for that very reason. He then played his second shot to the green, and not-so routinely two-putted from 95 feet.

"This tournament does it for him," said Glover's caddie Don Cooper. "He likes the golf course, the weather gets warm and he turns it on. He's never been a cold weather player. Just being here. A lot of friends. A lot of family."

His best friend, of course, is Byrd, who won the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions and briefly had a four-stroke lead Sunday before a couple of bogeys gave life to a number of players.

As big of a win as it might have been for Byrd, Glover probably needed it more. He became the first major winner from 2009 to win again and not even his much-discussed beard could distract him from the task at hand.

"Yeah, the beard thing," Glover said. "It was something to do back in the fall, and a bunch of people said, 'Hey, it looks pretty good.' I thought why not. Take it to the West Coast and see what happens.

"I'm scared of the tan now. It's going to be bad."

Not as bad as another scenario. What if Sabbatini wins the PGA Tour's signature event, the Players Championship, next Sunday?

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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