Cabrera's Masters victory was worth the wait

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Kenny Perry stood on the right side of the first green at Augusta National Sunday afternoon, leaning on his putter, paying little attention to anything else. Not 15 feet from him, Angel Cabrera stood behind his ball, quickly jerking his putter back and forth. Both players’ heads were pointed toward the ground for about 30 seconds until they looked up and caught the other’s glance.

It was at that point both realized they were waiting for each other – “Oh, sorry,” Perry said, noticing he was away – signaling a conclusion to just one of the waiting games that ended at the 2009 Masters.

On a heavenly Easter Sunday at Augusta National, golf fans stopped waiting for the roars and the fun to return, stopped waiting for the choir to come back to church; Argentina, meanwhile, stopped waiting for the green jacket it first set eyes on 41 years ago, when Roberto De Vicenzo inadvertently signed for a higher score and finished second by a stroke.

“After what happened with Robert (in 1968), golf increased a lot in Argentina,” fellow Argentine Andres Romero said through a translator. Romero spent the time watching his friend survive a sudden-death playoff with Perry and Chad Campbell by biting his nails.

“And I can’t imagine what will happen now with this victory with golf in Argentina.”

Cabrera, the happy-go-lucky 39-year-old from Cordoba, Argentina, will bring the green jacket home soon – along with one crazy tale of just how he brought this one home.

“This is the Masters,” Cabrera said through a translator, about a half-hour after Trevor Immelman put the green jacket on his back, a Masters to now go with his 2007 U.S. Open.

“It’s a course that you can do a lot of birdies, a lot of bogeys. A lot of magical things happen,” he said. “It’s simply the Masters.”

If only it were that simple. As Cabrera walked up the first fairway with Perry Sunday afternoon, fans that came over to watch the day’s final pairing had no problem finding space along the ropes. It was calm, even quiet, a quick “C’mon Kenny!” the only noticeable interruption.

At that point, Tiger Woods was busy watching the other guy in his group, Phil Mickelson, put together a front-nine 30 that more or less seemed to leave Cabrera and everyone else in the dust – if it existed at Augusta National. After making birdie on the par-4 6th hole, where he sent his approach from the left rough behind a tree to just inches, Mickelson walked to the 7th tee amid perhaps the loudest roars of the week – smiling, swaggering, even slapping hands with a man in a red shirt and Budweiser cap. Woods was 10 paces in front of him, steaming after a missed birdie putt. For at least that moment, it felt like we were already at the U.S. Open at Bethpage’s Black Course, surrounded by all those always pro-Phil New Yorkers.

“The front nine was awesome, yeah,” said Mickelson.

It was more or less the same on the back nine, except that Woods made a charge on holes 13-16 and things went from charged to supercharged, with both Tiger and Lefty locked in second place at 10 under. Had Mickelson not pulled a punch 9-iron into the drink at No. 12 for double bogey and played the back nine over par, this story might end a bit differently, with Lefty winning both the duel and the green jacket, shooting something much better than his 67.

Instead, Mickelson and Woods both missed putts down the stretch and each bogeyed 18, Tiger hitting his drive into the trees right and then hitting his approach smack into the middle of a tree, the first unbelievable finish of the day.

“It was just terrible,” said Woods, who shot 68 and said he fought his swing all day, the worst example coming on 18. “I don’t know what was going on. It was just frustrating.”

Cabrera was visibly frustrated early, especially after consecutive bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5, but never lost his focus, staying within striking – if not distance of Perry and Campbell. After a bogey on No. 10, he played his final eight holes in 3 under and made a 4-footer for par on 18. At the same time, he watched Perry seemingly win the tournament with birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, then give it away with bogeys on Nos. 17 and 18, his first two in 22 holes.

“Angel hit the shots he needed to down the stretch and I didn’t,” said the 48-year-old Perry, who narrowly missed a 15-footer for par on 18 that would have made him the oldest major champion ever and avenged his playoff loss in the 19956 PGA Championship.

On the first playoff hole, the man they call “El Pato” – translated as “The Duck” – ducked trouble once more, making an 8-footer for par after hitting into the same set of trees Woods had earlier. Cabrera tried to hook his ball around the tree, but struck a tree and watched the ball take a fortunate bounce into the fairway, about 60 yards away. He got up and down from there, then walked off the 18th green as he had about 30 minutes earlier, smiling and punching the air.

They were knockout punches, just not the kind we are used to at Augusta National.

“The world doesn’t know too much about him because he doesn’t speak that much English, but I mean he has as we know incredible length and power,” said Immelman, “and obviously a pretty incredible touch around the greens, too.”

Perry got up and down for par from the right side of the green, while Campbell – who also missed a birdie putt on No. 18 in regulation that would have snuck him into Butler Cabin – failed to get up and down from the right greenside bunker, pushing a 5-footer off the right lip of the cup.

“It was a left-edge putt and just kind of left the blade open,” he said.

Perry’s approach on the second playoff hole sailed left into below the elevated green. His next pitch carried a bit long and he missed the putt. Cabrera hit the front right of the green and two-putted for par, winning a tournament everyone was waiting for someone else to win.

“I’ve known him for a long time playing in Europe and playing on Presidents Cup teams and he’s a worthy champion,” said Immelman.

As with each of the previous two par putts, Cabrera let out a big smile, punched the air and a place in history and in hearts. Because of the victory, Romero said he feels like he can now win the Masters someday. Children across Argentina will feel the same come Monday morning.

“I dedicate this victory to my family, my wife that doesn’t have me (around), my kids that don’t always have me (around),” said Cabrera during the green jacket ceremony. “This victory is for them.”

Papa is coming home with a green jacket.

Certainly, it was worth the wait.

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