Rory Sabbatini is no longer the bad boy of golf

If I've learned anything from my years of watching sports, it's that we need villains as much as we need heroes. For every Bill Russell or Bart Starr that makes us believe there are good guys to root for in the sports world, there's a Ron Artest or Todd Bertuzzi that makes us realize that our heroes wouldn't be who they are today without their antagonist.

Rory Sabbatini was the villain of the PGA Tour for many years. Constantly ranked as the biggest jerk by his peers, the South African had memorable run-ins with Tiger Woods and Ben Crane that made you wonder if he had a kind bone in his body.

Sabbatini was a jerk. He was the guy you loved to root against. That's why his on-course struggles last year put a smile on my face. After winning in 2009, it was good to see the tour's bad boy having a down year. But after listening to Sabbatini speak this week about the trials and tribulations he went through last season, off the course, I'm the one who feels like the jerk.

Sabbatini's wife, Amy, had complications with the birth of the family's third child, leading to a stint spent in ICU. It was a scare that put things into perspective for Sabbatini -- even more so after he was diagnosed with skin cancer on his face. It's no wonder the trying year had Sabbatini distancing himself from his bad boy image during the post-round press conference.

"I'm a passionate golfer, I really am," Sabbatini said. "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."

It's that kind of perspective that has Sabbatini playing some of the best golf of his career. After finishing T13 and missing the cut in his first two events, he's now reeled off a top 25 finish or better in four of his last five events. Not bad for a guy who probably would have been talking trash, had he been in this situation a couple years back.

Can a bad boy suddenly turn into a guy we want to root for? It's possible. Truth is, Sabbatini will always remain a villain for some of us. But after listening to him this week, maybe it's time we start our search for a new antagonist.

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