Experience, patience leave Cabrera confident
PHOTOS: The Masters (Saturday)
Check out photos from the third round of the Masters Saturday at Augusta National.
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The homestretch of the 77th Masters is positioned to be another memorable shootout, with the Sunday forecast here at Augusta National Golf Club always showing a high chance of magic.
It is a venue where confidence and course knowledge can rule, and Argentine Angel Cabrera is flush with both. No doubt there’s a great deal of talent among the top six players within three shots of the lead, but only one of them knows what it’s like to stand on that famous practice putting green behind the majestic white, two-story clubhouse in the Sunday dusk waiting to have a green jacket slipped over his shoulders.
When Cabrera, the 2009 Masters winner, downplays the value of having won a major before, as well as having won at Augusta before, he does so like a poker player who quietly is sitting on a hand with three aces.
“Huge,” says his longtime coach, Charlie Epps, when asked what Cabrera’s seasoning and successful track record means at Augusta National. “He knows that. He’s got the experience, and he has no fear.”
Cabrera made birdies at two of his final three holes Saturday to shoot 3-under 69 and earn a spot in Sunday’s final pairing alongside American Brandt Snedeker. The players are tied for the lead at 7-under 209.
Augusta is a place that kindles Cabrera’s gentle soul, and Sunday marks the third time in five years that he will play in the final group, a positioning that often produces champions here.
His final birdie, set up with a powerful 5-iron to 12 feet, would secure him that spot, but Cabrera said it was more significant simply for the extra jolt of swagger it gave him as he walked off the course.
“The winner out here,” Cabrera, looking ahead to Sunday, said through a translator, “is going to be the one with the most patience.”
Patience is a trait that Cabrera has had to develop in a career featuring many ebbs and flows. He qualified for the European Tour on his fifth attempt, and his first run at the PGA Tour, in the mid-2000s, he didn’t enjoy his time so much in the U.S.
Both of Cabrera’s PGA Tour victories are majors – a U.S. Open triumph in 2007, at Oakmont, to go along with his ‘09 Masters win – and he’d jump into some rarified air should he land a third major on Sunday. In fact, in winning majors at Augusta National and Oakmont, he is part of a Murderer's Row roll call of great players: Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus.
“There’s a good reason he has two majors and 40 worldwide wins – he’s very special,” Epps said. “He’s a more patient individual than he was when he won here the first time. You learn from your mistakes. He’s a late bloomer.”
But it’s not as if Cabrera has been living at the top of the game these days. Cabrera, 43, has endured sickness, some dental issues and challenges in his personal life that include a recent legal separation from his common-law wife, Silvia. He mellowed a little late last year after the birth of his first grandchild, a baby named Agonista. On the golf course, the long-hitting, ultra-talented Argentine had slipped to 269th in the world.
It got to the point in the middle of summer in 2012 that Epps told Cabrera he had some decisions to face if the two of them were going to move forward into the future. Epps showed Cabrera some tough love, and chose to stay home in Houston when Cabrera ventured to play the Scottish and British Opens.
Eventually, Cabrera refocused his priorities, reunited with Epps, and though he missed the FedEx Cup playoffs for a second consecutive season last fall, he and his teacher set a goal of winning the Argentine Open late in the year. Cabrera did win, shooting a final-round 64 at Nordelta GC in Buenos Aires, and he also captured his own charity event the following week at home to gain some needed momentum for a new season.
Epps has spent much of this season telling those who’d ask that Cabrera is “very close” to regaining good form again, but the results just hadn’t been there. Until this week, Cabrera had yet to put everything together, finishing better than 30th only once in seven starts (T-16 in Houston). But Cabrera has been putting well at Augusta, and from tee to green on a golf course that is one of his favorites, Cabrera is simply “puring it,” says Epps. Few players swing the driver as confidently as Cabrera, and if he stays in the hunt late on Sunday, know this: Through three rounds, he has played the last six holes in 8 under.
“I think it's time to . . . definition time,” Cabrera said. “Tomorrow it's more about execution and about patience. I don't think it's a big advantage that I've won before. It's more about patience.”
In 2009, Cabrera closed with a 71 and prevailed in a playoff against Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell. As he stood behind the clubhouse at Augusta National early Saturday evening, Cabrera was asked if he’ll show up on Sunday armed with confidence.
“If not,” he said, “I won’t wake up.”