Augusta, Ga. | Argentina’s Angel Cabrera captured the 73rd Masters for three reasons Kenny Perry did not: Clutch putting, steely nerves and a little luck at just the right time.
After Perry hit 8-iron to kick-in range at the 16th hole and appeared poised to take a commanding three-shot lead with two to play, Cabrera poured in an 18-footer for birdie to stay within two shots. And not once but twice Cabrera made ticklish par putts at 18, once to jump into a three-man playoff (4 feet) and once (8 feet) simply to stay alive in sudden death.
Luck? It reared its head on the two playoff holes. Stymied behind a tree in the right pines at 18, Cabrera chose not to punch out to the fairway, making an aggressive decision to thread his second shot through a small opening in the trees. His ball struck a pine, and Cabrera didn’t know where it landed. He exhaled when his caddie told him he was fine, his ball in the fairway. Huge break.
One hole later, Perry hit a perfect drive down 10 only to get mud caked onto his golf ball. The mud was on the right side; his 7-iron from 181 yards drifted left, down the valley beside the green, leaving a short-sided chip en route to a bogey that would seal his fate as a two-time playoff loser in major championships.
“You need luck sometimes in this game,” explained Cabrera.
(Somewhere, Sergio Garcia must be throwing his hands in the air.)
Cabrera, who began the final round tied for the lead, captured his second major simply by doing the basics (such as making birdies on the back-nine par 5s) and hanging around as those around him fell back. At Oakmont in 2007, he won the U.S. Open with his powerful drives and a precision iron game; at Augusta, the power was prevalent, but so was his touch. As Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim pointed out early in the week, the game and style of Cabrera, one of his staff players, is made for majors. At Augusta, he shows all parts of his game.
“As we know, he has incredible length and power,” said 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, a Presidents Cup teammate, “and obviously a pretty incredible touch around the greens, too. He’s a worthy champion.”
Cabrera conceded to being nervous, but showed it less than his fellow competitors. Perry collapsed with back-to-back bogeys to end regulation; Chad Campbell failed to take advantage of a huge opening on the first playoff hole, where he had 154 yards in and took bogey; and neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods could finish off electric comeback runs.
Augusta’s old-time Sunday magic, complete with the roars of yesteryear, unfolded upon a golf course setup that was the kindest and gentlest that players and fans have witnessed since Masters Sunday of 2004, when accessible pins and favorable conditions set up a classic shootout between Mickelson and Ernie Els.
This time, Mickelson, who began Sunday seven shots back, went out in 6-under 30, tying a tournament record. First-timer John Merrick came home in 32. So low scores were out there. The weather was
perfect, and greens were receptive, allowing several medium-length hitters (Steve Stricker, Steve Flesch, Jim Furyk and Tim Clark among them) to keep shots on the putting surfaces and stay in contention.
Masters officials said they wanted Augusta’s roars to return, and the volume followed. There were 34 eagles on the week, 23 coming on the back-nine par 5s. The final-round scoring average (72.606) was a stroke lower than ’08 and three strokes better than ’07, when zero players finished the tournament below par.
“It’s got the right balance this year,” former champion Sandy Lyle said.
Caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, a 20-year veteran on Mickelson’s bag, called Sunday the most fun he’s ever had on a course.
“The setup all week has been A plus-plus,” Mackay said. “Once we saw the pins today, it was, ‘Man, there’s birdies coming in.’ That’s the way the Masters is supposed to be. It was a home run out there.”
Especially for slugger Angel Cabrera.