AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters delivered the show everyone wanted and a champion no one expected.
Angel Cabrera became the first Argentine to win the green jacket at Augusta National on Sunday by surviving a wild final round that began with a supercharged duel between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and ended with a stunning collapse by Kenny Perry.
Indeed, this Masters had it all.
Two shots behind with two holes to play, Cabrera fought his way into a three-way playoff when the 48-year-old Perry, on the verge of becoming golf’s oldest major champion, bogeyed the final two holes.
Even in a playoff, Cabrera looked like the odd man out.
He drove into the trees, hit another shot off a Georgia pine, but still scrambled for par with an 8-foot putt. He won with a routine par on the 10th hole when Perry missed the green badly to the left and made yet another bogey, this one the most costly of them all.
“I may never get this opportunity ever again, but I had a lot of fun being in there,” Perry said. “I had the tournament to win. I lost the tournament. But Angel hung in there. I was proud of him.”
Cabrera, who won the U.S. Open at Oakmont two years ago, finally earned a green jacket for Argentina.
It was 41 years ago when Roberto De Vicenzo made one of golf’s most famous gaffes, signing for the wrong score that denied him a spot in a Masters playoff.
De Vicenzo gave him a picture of a green jacket two years ago when Cabrera returned home as U.S. Open champion and told him to go for it. On this turbulent day, it took everything Cabrera had.
“This is a great moment, the dream of any golfer to win the Masters,” Cabrera said through an interpreter during the green jacket ceremony. “I’m so emotional I can barely talk.”
He closed with a 1-under 71 to get into the first three-man playoff at the Masters in 22 years.
Chad Campbell finished with a 69 and was eliminated on the first playoff hole when he found a bunker from the middle of the 18th fairway, then watched his 6-foot par putt lip out of the hole.
The final hour was almost enough to make a dizzy gallery forget about the Woods-Mickelson fireworks hours earlier.
For those who feared Augusta National had become too tough, too dull and far too quiet, the roars returned in a big way. Mickelson and Woods played together in a final round of a major for the first time in eight years, and they proved to be the best undercard in golf.
Mickelson tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine to get into contention. Woods chased him around Amen Corner, then caught him with three birdies in a four-hole stretch that captured the imagination of thousands of fans who stood a dozen deep in spots for a view.
But it ended with a thud.
Mickelson lost his momentum with a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th, and when he missed a 4-foot eagle putt and a 5-foot birdie putt down the stretch. He had to settle for a 67 that left him three shots behind.
Woods bogeyed the last two holes for a 68 to finish another shot back.
Then came the Main Event.
Perry did not make a birdie until his 20-foot putt on the 12th curled into the side of the cup. Campbell, playing in the group ahead, narrowly missed two eagle putts on the back nine to forge a brief share of the lead.
It looked like Perry had the green jacket buttoned up when he hit his tee shot to within a foot of the cup on the par-3 16th hole for a two-shot lead over Campbell and Cabrera, who made an 18-foot birdie putt on the 16th just to stay in the game.
But after going 22 consecutive holes without a bogey, he made two at the worst time.
From behind the 17th green, Perry’s chip was too firm and tumbled off the front of the green for a bogey. Then, he hit the biggest tee shot of his life into the left bunker on the 18th, pulled his approach left of the green, and missed his 15-foot putt for par.
“I had a putt to win,” Perry said. “I’ve seen so many people make that putt. I hit it too easy. You’ve got to give that putt a run. How many chances do you have to win the Masters?”
That’s a question for Cabrera. How did he manage to win this one?
He needed help from Perry just to get into the playoff, and it looked like Cabrera wouldn’t last long.
Perry and Campbell were in the 18th fairway, while the Argentine hit his tee shot directly behind a Georgia pine. Trying to hook it out of trouble, he struck a tree and was fortunate that the ball ricocheted into the fairway.
Perry chunked his shot, short and to the right. Campbell also went to the right, into a bunker. Cabrera hit his third shot to 8 feet and pumped his fist when he holed it for an unlikely par.
When he arrived at his ball in the 10th fairway for the second extra hole, Perry noticed mud on his ball and feared it would go left. It went farther than he imagined, tumbling down a swale, and he flashed a wistful smile. He knew his Masters bid was most likely over.
Cabrera, who finished at 12-under 276, became only the sixth player to win multiple majors this decade.
Despite all the cheers and excitement that returned to the Masters, no one really lit up the back nine the way Jack Nicklaus did when he won in 1986, or Mickelson and Ernie Els did in 2004.
But the possibility was there, and that’s all that mattered. All afternoon, there was endless chatter about who would make the big charge on the back nine.
Mickelson didn’t bother waiting that long.
His charge came on the front nine, a record-tying 30 as he raced up the leaderboard and delighted a massive gallery with four consecutive birdies. The most significant came at No. 7, when he powered a shot around the trees to inside a foot.
Fans who stood a dozen-deep behind the green were jumping and waving their arms, a scene that looked more like a Duke-North Carolina basketball game than staid, proper Augusta National.
It was perfect timing – and perfect location.
About 40 yards down the hill, Cabrera played his pitch to the par-5 second just as the loudest cheer of early afternoon shook the pines.
For the final pairing at the Masters, Cabrera and Perry didn’t get much attention. Their gallery was thin, about one-fifth the size of the mass following Woods and Mickelson. There was no energy. No birdies, either.
“I felt that when Tiger and Phil were making birdies and were making a move, I had to make a move myself in order to be the winner,” Cabrera said.
Padraig Harrington, whose bid for a third straight major officially ended with a 73 to finish even par for the week, looked over to see Perry and Cabrera make the turn.
“There’s hardly anybody watching the leaders,” he said.
But they got plenty of attention later, after the Woods-Mickelson circus left town.
“It’s sure nice to hear the roars coming back out here,” Larry Mize said. “That’s what you love about this place.”
One thing didn’t change – the pressure of trying to win that green jacket.