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Agent: Last-place Sabbatini withdraws due to shin splints

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Rory Sabbatini didn't let the year
end without getting under Tiger Woods' skin one last time.

In a move that left players shaking their head, Sabbatini
withdrew from the final round of the Target World Challenge on
Sunday citing "personal reasons," the first player in the
nine-year history of the event to leave early.

Sabbatini still received $170,000. He was in last place heading
into the final round, 28 shots behind.

A locker-room attendant, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because he was not authorized to release information, said
Sabbatini cleaned out his locker Saturday afternoon and gave away
sweaters and shoes. He told them he was headed to Maui, where he
spends his Christmas vacation.

His agent, Bud Martin, said Sabbatini told him he withdrew
because of shin splints.

"He had shin splints that were bothering him yesterday,"
Martin said after talking to Sabbatini on Sunday morning. "He went
home overnight and worked on them with his trainer, and they
weren't getting any better. He said he wasn't going to risk it."

Tournament director Greg McLaughlin wasn't informed until 8:30
a.m., although he had a hunch Sabbatini was leaving when he was
checking out of the hotel and overheard the concierge trying
unsuccessfully to book Sabbatini a limo for eight to get to the
airport.

"We're disappointed that he withdrew," McLaughlin said. "It's
the first time in the history of the event that we've ever had a
professional not complete four rounds of competition."

By Sunday afternoon, McLaughlin still could not locate
Sabbatini's courtesy car. Paul Casey said he saw the South African
loading up the car in the hotel parking lot.

"They don't have any flights to Hawaii tonight?" Fred Couples
said, shaking his head. "He's messing with the wrong guy."

Woods, the tournament host, shook his head when asked about
Sabbatini on his way to the practice range. After winning by seven
shots, he said he was trying to sort through conflicting reports.

"I've heard he had shin splints," Woods said. "I heard he
pulled out for personal reason. He packed his locker up at 3
o'clock yesterday, I think headed to Hawaii. A lot of different
things going on. And I'd like to try and get to the bottom of it
when I'm done here, and we'll see what happens."

Later, he was asked if he minded that Sabbatini left, and a cold
stare spoke volumes.

PGA Tour officials said regulations allow for Sabbatini to
collect unofficial last place money, typical of any tournament when
a player withdraws on the weekend. In this case, the entire purse
is unofficial, and last place pays $170,000.

"He should give that back to the foundation," Couples said.

Sabbatini qualified for the 16-man field through his world
ranking, which now is at No. 11. He finished at No. 6 on the PGA
Tour money list with a career-high $4.5 million, but his year was
best remembered for calling out Woods.

They played in the final round at the Wachovia Championship,
where Woods overcame a one-shot deficit to win. Sabbatini, who had
said he wanted Woods in the final group at Quail Hollow, said the
following week that Woods looked as "beatable as ever."

"I've seen Tiger when he hits the ball well," Sabbatini said.
"I've seen him when he figures it out. It's scary. I don't want to
see that anymore. I like the new Tiger."

Woods responded by saying the "new Tiger" had three victories
in 2007 at that point, "the same amount he's won in his career."
Woods finished the season with seven victories.

They were paired again in the final round at the Bridgestone
Invitational, and Sabbatini said it would be a rubber match. Woods
beat him at Wachovia, but Sabbatini said he outscored him in the
final round of the 1996 NCAA Championship, where Woods had an
eight-shot lead going into the last round and won the title by
three shots in his last year at Stanford.

At Firestone, Woods turned a one-shot deficit into a seven-shot
lead at the turn and won by eight.

His withdraw drew almost as much attention as Woods' seven-shot
victory, with Couples sounding off the loudest. He was told that
Sabbatini's agent attributed the early departure to shin splints.

"Of course, he did," Couples said. "And Roger Clemens' agent
said he didn't do steroids."

Mark Calcavecchia wrote it off to "Rory being Rory."

"I think I could have toughed out one more round,"
Calcavecchia said. "I don't think the fans missed him."

Other players declined comment on the record, although it was
clear they were perplexed by the decision. British Open champion
Padraig Harrington pondered the question before saying, "Is there
anything you can say about it?"

After a long pause, he added, "I don't think there is." Then
came another long pause. "It's Christmas."