Sabbatini: 'Have to be happy at home'

DALLAS -- Count Rory Sabbatini among those curious to see how Tiger Woods performs and how the public reacts to the world's top player when he decides to return to the PGA Tour.

"I think it's going to be interesting to see the reaction of the public to Tiger," Sabbatini said Thursday. "He's always been the golden boy of the spectators. It's definitely going to be interesting to see how people react to that and how they respond to everything that's occurred."

Sabbatini isn't sure when Woods might return or if he'll play in the year's first major, the Masters.

"He's got to do what works for him," Sabbatini said. "You have to be happy at home before you can get your head in the game out there. We know he wants to be at his best when he returns. He has to do what he feels is needed to be in that position."

Sabbatini, the defending champion of the HP Byron Nelson Championship, was in Dallas for a luncheon hosted by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas, which runs the event. Sabbatini, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said that the perception that he has a feud with Woods is "media driven."

"It's never really been from him or from myself," Sabbatini said. "Obviously, there's never really been much of a relationship with Tiger. He has his group of friends and that's the way it is."

Sabbatini has drawn criticism for some comments of Woods in the past that he says were taken out of context.

In May 2007, Woods and Sabbatini were in the final pairing of the final round of the Wachovia Championship. Sabbatini saw Woods three-put for a double bogey on the 13th hole on his way to winning the event. A few days later, Sabbatini made his comment about Woods' vulnerability.

Sabbatini did say that Woods' absence has allowed some younger players to make their mark and that the Tour needs to put some more focus on them. He added that he expects Woods will perform well when he returns.

"We all know Tiger is a great player," Sabbatini said. "I don't think anybody is going to be disappointed in his performance. I think he'll come back out and play well. We all know you don't just have a talent like that and it disappears. It's going to be there, it's going to return. He's going to be playing well. It's going to be interesting to see how his mental game is and how his head is in regards to keeping his focus."

Sabbatini thinks everyone in the game of golf will be excited when Woods returns.

"I know the sponsors and the media are going to definitely enjoy having him back," Sabbatini said. "It's going to create quite a buzz when he does return and I know there are a lot of fans out there that enjoy watching Tiger play and they are looking for him to return, too."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report