Woods' exit opens door to Sabbatini

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The Independent Online

The South African Rory Sabbatini took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Nissan Open in Los Angeles and he did not have to worry about Tiger Woods.

The hopes of the world No 1 for a third successive victory this year ended when he withdrew from an event he has now failed to win in 11 attempts. Woods, suffering from flu symptoms all week, had only just survived the halfway cut on one over par. But just before his third-round tee-off time, word came through that he would not continue.

Woods' agent Mark Steinberg said: "Everyone saw how Tiger felt this week, and he can't shake it. He feels awful. This is an event he loves to play and strives to win. Tiger doesn't want to pull out of any event ever, much less the Nissan Open in his home town."

Woods' focus now will be on recovering fitness for the start of the Accenture world match play championship in San Diego on Wednesday. He is scheduled to play Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell in the first round of a tournament he has won twice in the past three years.

Sabbatini, four clear at halfway, added a 67 to reach 14 under par and stay on course for a victory which - following two runners-up finishes already this season - would take the South African top of the US Tour money list. Joint second on 10 under are the 46-year-old twice winner Fred Couples, seeking only his second success on the circuit since 1998, and his fellow American Craig Barlow. Lee Westwood fell from fourth to 11th with a 70 and is the leading European.

Justin Rose, who shared the lead after an opening 64, also shot 70 and is 14th, while Luke Donald (71) and Greg Owen (70) are three under and in a tie for 30th. Paul McGinley's 71 left him two under and joint 37th.