Years from now, he might tell people that he had it all the way. Angel Cabrera will point out that he was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Masters. He will recall that he birdied three of the final six holes to force a playoff with Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry. He will show pictures of the green jacket being held up for him to put on. And he will never give the pine tree any credit. Cabrera became the first Argentine to win the Masters on Sunday when he sank a short par
putt on the second playoff hole to beat Perry after Campbell had been eliminated on the first hole.
"This is the Masters. A lot of magical things happen," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "It's simply the Masters."
It was an unlikely climax to an unbelievable Easter Sunday. After years of plodding finishes at the Masters, the crowd at Augusta National got the all-out sprint everyone had been hoping to see.
Teeing off an hour before the leaders, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson staged the kind of final-round duel that has been rare in their rivalry. Starting the day seven strokes behind the leaders, each got to within one stroke of the lead before eventually fading on the final holes.
"I could hear the crowd going ballistic for Tiger and Phil," Perry said. "They just ran out of holes."
Which seemingly put the championship in the hands of Perry, 48, who has amassed more prize money in his career than any golfer to have never won a major. With a two-stroke lead with two holes to go, Perry needed only one par to become the oldest winner of a major. Instead, he got his first two bogeys of the day.
"It's tough when it comes down to one shot that can do it here or there," Perry said. "Our game is tough. It's a mental game, and it plays a lot with your head out there."
Just ask Cabrera, 39, who looked as if he were going to be eliminated on several occasions. As Perry was racking up par after par, and Woods and Mickelson were making impossible shots, Cabrera seemed to play himself out of contention by shooting 1 over on the front nine. By the 12th hole, he had fallen three strokes behind Perry.
Once he had worked himself back into the playoff, Cabrera suffered what looked like a fatal setback. His tee shot on the first playoff hole, No. 18, landed in a clump of trees. With Campbell and Perry sitting in the middle of the fairway, Cabrera's second shot whacked off a pine tree.
An hour earlier, Woods had hit a similar shot, and the ball ricocheted to the right and onto the 10th fairway. Cabrera's shot bounced left onto the 18th fairway. Did Cabrera see it hit the tree?
"I heard it," he said.
As Campbell and Perry missed on their approach shots, Cabrera got up and down for par. Campbell was eliminated when his 6-foot par putt lipped out. Perry then took himself out with a poor approach and chip on the second playoff hole at No. 10.
Cabrera finished with a routine par to earn the second major of his career. The Masters and the 2007 U.S. Open are his only victories on the PGA Tour. And with this win, the Argentine earned $1.35 million and a lifetime exemption in the Masters.
For Argentina, the playoff victory was a long time coming. In the 1968 Masters, Roberto De Vincenzo suffered one of the most notorious gaffes in golf history when he signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified from a playoff.
After Cabrera's U.S. Open victory, De Vincenzo gave him a framed portrait of a green jacket.
"He said, 'I hope this gives you luck so someday you can bring back a green jacket for yourself,' " Cabrera said.