Dulac: Cabrera flourishes at Augusta National

Argentine among rare 'birds' with major titles at Masters and in U.S. Open at Oakmont

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- In America, only one golf course has been the host of more major championships than the Augusta National Golf Club, the annual site of the Masters.

Oakmont Country Club has staged 11 majors since it was founded in 1904, including eight U.S. Open championships. Another one is coming to Oakmont in 2016, nine years after the most recent Open was held there.

In all that time, only five players can uniquely say they have won a major championship at Augusta National and Oakmont, and they are some of the greatest names in golf.

Ben Hogan.

Jack Nicklaus.

Sam Snead.

Gene Sarazen.

Sarazen (1922) and Snead (1951) won PGA Championships at Oakmont. Hogan (1953) and Nicklaus (1962) won a U.S. Open there.

But there is one more player on that list, and he might seem an unlikely member.

Angel Cabrera of Argentina.

He already was part of that Augusta-Oakmont parlay before Sunday, having won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2007, when he outlasted Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk; and the Masters in 2009 in a three-way playoff with Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry.

And he was looking Sunday as though he would join Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only repeat winners of the green jacket since 2000, at least after his dramatic birdie at the 72nd hole forced a playoff with Adam Scott.

And wouldn't have that been something.

Before the 77th Masters even began, Cabrera, 43, was the Andy North of his era. He has only two victories in 16 years on the PGA Tour and both are majors. North won three tournaments when he played the tour from 1973 to 1992, but two of them were U.S. Open titles.

In fact, since his victory at Oakmont, Cabrera's only victory against a full field came in 2012 in the Argentina Open. He also won the Grand Slam of Golf in 2007, but that was against just three other players.

Had he defeated Scott in the two-hole playoff, Cabrera would have been in his own category. He would have been the Angel Cabrera of his era -- three victories, all majors -- and maybe every other era.

Bring Cabrera to Augusta National and his game flourishes like the azaleas and dogwood in Amen Corner. He has made eight consecutive cuts, finished in the top 10 five times and, most impressive, been in the final group on Sunday in three of the past five Masters, including this one.

"I like the challenges, and this tournament, and they are very, very important to me," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "So sometimes they get the best out of me."

Cabrera delivered his best in the fading light at Augusta National, making birdies on two of the final three holes -- none more electric than stuffing a 7-iron from 163 yards to 2 1/2 feet at No. 18 -- to force a playoff.

And, on each playoff hole, he came within inches of making another birdie that might have spelled a different ending.

Granted, Cabrera has 39 world-wide victories as a professional, including five on the European Tour. But he has been so long without a victory of significance that, entering the Masters, he was ranked No. 269 in the world.

And then he does this.

"A lot of work and a lot of faith in myself," Cabrera said, when asked how he explains this latest surprise. "I have a lot of confidence in myself. I'm going to keep on going."

Because of his waddling gait, Cabrera is known as "El Pato," which means "the duck" in Spanish. But he stalks his way around the golf course and, when he would smoked, he looked more like a locomotive chugging down the fairway.

Cabrera still smokes, but he doesn't smoke on the golf course. Instead, he calms his nerves by chewing gum.

"Some golfers have psychologists, I smoke," he once said.

Unlike most of today's tour players, Cabrera has never been to the gym and never had a swing coach. What's more, he never went to school beyond elementary school and began caddying when he was 10 to help make money for his family.

Indeed, Cabrera does not always look the part. But, for several moments on the back nine, he came within inches of being a three-time major champion.

With no other victories.

"That's golf," Cabrera said. "Golf gives and takes. Sometimes you make those putts, sometimes you just miss them. But that's golf."

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Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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