AUGUSTA, Ga. -- This wasn't nearly the same as Oakmont, when he won the U.S. Open by stalking the fairways, puffing on cigarettes and staring down Tiger Woods. But, for Angel Cabrera, becoming the first South American player to win the Masters was just as energizing, even if Kenny Perry -- not Trevor Immelman -- handed him the green jacket.
On a day when Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods shook the hills like nobody since Jack Nicklaus with a classic showdown, it was Perry who shook the hardest in the fading sunlight at the Augusta National Golf Club, bogeying the final two holes to blow a two-shot lead and then making a mess of two playoff holes.
When it was all over, it was Cabrera, a long-hitting Argentine, who benefited from the collapse, surviving a three-man playoff with Perry and Chad Campbell with two pars to claim his second major championship.
"I had the tournament to win," Perry said. "I lost the tournament."
Instead of putting on the green jacket that he always desired to win for his father, Perry instead turned it over to Cabrera, 39, whose surprising victory validates his win in the 2007 U.S. Open and precludes the possibility of him being a one-hit wonder.
And Cabrera did it with the same steely resolve he showed at Oakmont, playing with an easy but determined manner and never losing his way, even when his second shot on the first playoff hole hit a tree and ricocheted sideway into the fairway.
No problem. Cabrera calmly wedged his third shot to 8 feet and made par, allowing him to advance to the second playoff hole where he beat Perry with a two-putt par from 20 feet.
"I think I'm more prepared now," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "The U.S. Open caught me by surprise. I know more of what is happening on the course.'
Cabrera shot a final-round 71 to finish tied with Campbell (69) and Perry (71) at 12-under 276, the lowest winning score since Woods in 2005.
Perry, 48, appeared well on his way to winning his first major championship and becoming the oldest player to win a major title, especially when he hit a 7-iron to 4 inches for birdie at the par-3 16th, giving him a two-shot lead.
But Perry tugged his approach from the 17th fairway over the green, then nervously skulled a chip shot across the putting surface for bogey. At 18, he made bogey again when he drove into the fairway bunker and pulled his approach left of the green.
"I've got a little firing mechanism in my right hand, I can't seem to slow it down when I get under the gun," Perry said. "I just shoot 'em."
The gaffe conjured memories for Perry of his other missed opportunity in a major championship -- the 1996 PGA Championship when he bogeyed the final hole and lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks. Perry, who will be 49 Aug. 10, was trying to become the oldest winner of a major championship, passing Julius Boros, who was 48 years, 4 months and 18 days when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
"I've got two to think about now," Perry said.
Perry still had a chance in a playoff, especially after his drive at No. 18, the first extra hole, split the fairway. But, with just under 160 yards remaining, Perry fanned his approach short and right of the bunker, a shot totally out of character for this 13-time PGA Tour winner.
Perry, though, made a nice recovery, pitching his third shot to tap-in range and moving to the second extra hole. That became necessary when Cabrera, after his second shot hit a tree from the right pine straw, wedged his third shot to 8 feet and saved par.
"I had a spot like this big," Cabrera said, holding his hands about a foot apart.
That was about the same size window Cabrera had with two holes remaining in regulation, even though he was coming off a two-putt birdie at the par-5 15th and a 15-foot birdie at No. 16. Those birdies matched the ones produced at those holes by Perry, his playing partner.
Campbell was in the same situation, especially after a bogey at No. 11 dropped him two shots from the lead. But he birdied three of the next four holes to shoot 69, then watched Perry give him a reprieve with his late collapse.
"I thought I was going to be one shot out of it," Campbell said.
But, on the first playoff hole, Campbell hit his 7-iron approach from the fairway into the right greenside bunker at the first playoff hole. He played out to 5 feet, but missed the par-saving putt to eliminate him from the playoff.
One hole later, Cabrera ended the suspense. Perry will have to live with the consequences.
"I thought I had enough experience to hang in there, I really did," Perry said. "I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. If this is the worst thing that will happen to me, I can live with it. Great players get it done and Angel got it done."
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com . First Published April 13, 2009 4:00 AM