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Give Angel his due

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Now that we’ve established that the 2009 Masters will always be remembered for Tiger and Phil getting their Jack-Arnie/Ali-Frazier moment, and now that we’ve established that the 2009 Masters’ next most popular story line is the heartbreak of good guy Kenny Perry, let’s turn our attention to that tertiary story line: the Masters champion.

Oh, yeah: him. Nearly forgot about Angel Cabrera, didn’t you?

That’s what happens when you get the nickname “El Pato,” or “The Duck.” You will note, of course, that Earl Woods did not choose to nickname his son “The Duck” or “Ducky,” lest he get confused with Jon Cryer’s unforgettable turn as a New Wave wannabe in John Hughes’ epic piece of cinema called “Pretty in Pink.”

I get the feeling Cabrera doesn’t need your attention, really. He’s got his friends, his countrymen and the green jacket, so if you’ll excuse him, he’s got some partying to do well into the early hours of this week. Based on that Daly-esque physique of his, we can rest assured that Cabrera’s post-Masters party tray includes heaping helpings of milanesas, or breaded and fried meat in a sandwich. (See? Cabrera’s win already has this Irish-Italian boy all over Wikipedia’s “Argentine cuisine” chapter.)

At any rate, if we’re in the business of remembering the 2009 Masters for its epic moments, then why hasn’t enough ink been spilled on Cabrera’s All-World ‘4’ on the first playoff hole, the 18th?

To wit: Tee shot pumped right, into the trees. Second shot ricocheted off a tree bark, kicking into fairway. Third shot, a wedge to eight tricky feet above the hole. Fourth shot, the eight-foot slider with the Masters on the line.

Like I said: All-World "4."

Or, if you prefer, we can dust off the golf nugget “working man’s par,” which is appropriate for Cabrera, a man of the people who started as a caddy and still gives back to the youth in his home country.

If there were ever a workingman’s Masters champ, it’s Cabrera, who may be the first man to wear a green jacket with a shank on his ledger in the final round. Or did you miss his hosel rocket on No. 8, a brutal bit of spray from the middle of the fairway? For Cabrera to come back from that and still make par on the hole speaks to the man’s character.

That he seemed totally out of it and forgotten on the 13th tee, three back of Perry, suited Cabrera just fine. All he did from there was birdie 13, par 14, birdie 15, birdie 16, save par on 17 and make par on 18 to force the playoff.

Two things of note: His birdie on 16 was magic, a 15-foot knee knocker after Perry had stolen all the thunder with a near-ace off the tee. And his par save on 17 was from off the green, while Perry was making bogey from darn near the same place.

Oh, and then the All-World ‘4’ in the playoff, a par so legendary that even Perry, eyeballing his first major, stood and applauded it before they headed to the 10th tee.

For too long on Sunday, we concentrated on all the buzz of Tiger and Phil, and I was as guilty as the rest. When Mickelson and Woods left the premises, it felt like a concert where the promoter screwed up and scheduled the headliner first, leaving us the opening band on stage while the crowd trickles out. It took me, and probably the rest of you, about a hole-and-a-half to re-focus on Perry and Cabrera, and it happened around 16, when Perry walked off with a two-shot lead and Cabrera was an afterthought.

Just like he was an afterthought at Oakmont in 2007, when we waited and waited for Tiger or Jim Furyk to win the U.S. Open and Cabrera just sat in the clubhouse, making love to a box of cigarettes. They never caught him.

Cabrera doesn’t smoke anymore. He worked some Nicorette gum, showed more nerve than any other player in the field and in the process joined an elite group of Masters/U.S. Open double-dippers, a group that includes the usual suspects like Tiger, Jack, Arnie, Hogan and Player, but also includes players like Tom Watson, Ray Floyd, Billy Casper and Fuzzy Zoeller.

With the win, Cabrera also redeemed Argentina’s reputation at Augusta National, some 41 years after Roberto de Vincenzo signed an incorrect scorecard and missed out on a playoff with Bob Goalby. De Vincenzo is a mentor to Cabrera, and Cabrera told us, through his translator, that de Vincenzo gave Cabrera a photo of a green jacket years ago as inspiration, to win it for Argentina.

He did. And while we all wring our hands over Tiger and Phil and Kenny Perry, Cabrera dances away with his friends and countrymen, laughing, toasting, smiling and bringing joy to the masses. Good for him. Maybe, eventually, his story will elevate to the top memory of the 2009 Masters. Not likely, though.

Still, if anybody wants to discuss better "4s" in the history of the Masters, I’ll take Cabrera in ’09 and take on all comers.

Scorecard of the week, part one

65-70-72-69 -– 276, Chad Campbell, tie-2nd, Masters.

For those about to be forgotten by history, we salute you.

Poor Chad Campbell. He played 72 holes of golf in maybe the most important championship of them all, and not a single player in the world was more economical than his 276 strokes. His work was a brilliant achievement, worthy of a lifetime’s honor.

Only Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera were as good as him – but not better.

Hence, the playoff.

And hence, Chad Campbell’s relegation to the dustbin of history.

The cruel truth of Masters playoffs is, when you lose ‘em, you’re toast. When is the last time you gave Dan Pohl (1982 loss to Craig Stadler) a second thought? Or the last time you remembered Seve Ballesteros was the first man out in a three-way before Larry Mize chipped in on Greg Norman (1987)? Or the last time you stopped to pour out the last of your Georgia sweet iced tea in honor of Len Mattiace (2003 loss to Mike Weir)?

Chad Campbell made bogey from Position A on the first playoff hole against Perry and Cabrera, and all it earned him was "Scorecard of the week, part one" honors at All he did was play the last six holes in three under, with no bogeys, and his reward is that he’s forgotten by Tuesday.

For one last fleeting moment, here’s to Chad Campbell shooting 69 in the final round of the Masters. I swear. He did. It wasn’t all Tiger and Phil on April 12, 2009. It just seemed that way.

Scorecard of the week, part two

• 73-68-71-67 – 279, Phil Mickelson, 5th place, Masters.

To say Phil Mickelson shot 67 on Sunday in a final pairing with Tiger Woods tells about, oh, 10 percent of the story.

To say Phil Mickelson turned in the most memorable 5th place finish in Masters history is getting much warmer to the truth.

As if CBS weren’t hyperventilating enough over Tiger and Phil paired together in the 1:35 pm EDT group – seven shots off the lead, mind you! – Lefty made sure the Easter Sunday TV ratings gods got a gigantic basket of goodies with a front-nine 30 that had nearly every “patron” and couch potato reaching for a bib to control our drool. (Note to self: Can a couch potato be a “patron,” too? Like, a couch patron? And would Augusta National approve of couch patrons like me watching in our boxer shorts, eating bowls of Lucky Charms and occasionally belching?)

Back to Lefty. He and Tiger created so much wattage in their joint 9-under front nine, it rendered the Cabrera-Perry final twosome a distant joke, with all the buzz of a first-round Champions Tour event somewhere in Oklahoma.

May the golf gods bless Lefty. He not only became the second player ever to post a front-nine 30 in the final round (Greg Norman was the other), but he made it even more special with his tee shot into the drink on 12, his missed tiddler for eagle on 15, and his missed four-footer for bird on 17. Even when he fails – maybe especially when he fails – Lefty is can’t-miss theatre.

A bogey on 18 ended the exhausting run, but today we applaud the thrills. Nice 67, Phil. You are a beaut.

Scorecard of the week, par three

• 70-72-70-68 – 280, Tiger Woods, tie-6th, Masters.

He shot 68 on a Sunday at the Masters. In his last major, he engineered perhaps the most thrilling U.S. Open win ever. Two weeks ago, he birdied the 72nd hole to show off in front of Arnold Palmer.

So now we ask: What the hell is wrong with Tiger Woods?

Welcome to Tiger’s lot in life. He hasn’t won the Masters since 2005, and we start trotting out statistics like: “The four consecutive Masters played without a win is the longest drought in Tiger Woods’ career, besting his previous drought of three, from 1998-2000.”

There are standards, and then there are Tiger Standards.

He went out in 33, came home in 35. He eagled No. 8, and birdied 16 in front of God and Verne Lundquist, not necessarily in that order.

That said, his consecutive bogeys on 17 and 18 remind us that the man has feet of clay. His second shot off a tree on 18 was a stunning bit of mortal behavior. And the fact that he has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes remains a stubborn truth.

To which, I’m sure, Tiger Woods says: See you all at Bethpage Black. Deal?

Mulligan of the week, part one

• Phil Mickelson goes out in 30, and Augusta National is nearly unglued. He comes to Amen Corner, makes a nice par at 11, and the place is ready to fly off its axis if he can stuff one at 12.

So Lefty pulls 9-iron, addresses the ball and … inexplicably tugs some sort of punch shot swing, shortening his backswing and follow-through. His ball flies left, to the Danger Zone part of the green and, sure as Lefty thrills us when he’s hot, his golf ball’s trajectory chills us when he’s not.

It trickles down into Rae’s Creek.

The collective sound of Augusta National’s dauber going down could be heard all the way to Cordoba, Argentina.

Phil makes a double-bogey 5 and the charge is derailed.

So let’s please go back to that moment, re-tee, maybe even re-club and … give that man a mulligan!

Mulligan of the week, part two

• I feel we cannot proceed any further without offering Kenny Perry a mulligan, too. The problem: Which shot to bequeath the mully?

We could let him get a re-do on his approach to 10 in the playoff, inexplicably tugged left of the green, and in jail. We could let him re-roll his putt at 18 in regulation, the 18-footer that had a chance to win him a green jacket. We could offer him a chance to re-tee on 18 in regulation, so he doesn’t hit driver into the fairway bunker.

But it all went to purgatory in a hand basket with that chip on 17. He’s got a two-shot lead, he’s just off the green, and an up-and-down is still in play. Perry, though, jabs at his chip shot, and skulls it past the flag and off the green. It’s all he can do to make a bogey, and heading to 18 with a one-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead is all the difference in the world.

So, let’s have a heart, go back out to 17, remind Perry that he has that ‘yip’ thing and offer him a chance to re-club … in short, let’s give that man a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week, part one

“If this is the worst thing that happens to me in my life, then I’ll be OK.” – Kenny Perry, in the gloaming on Sunday evening.

Perry carries with him the reputation of “Nicest Guy on Tour,” which essentially means that he is kind to others, not caught up in himself, generous with his time and understanding of the job the media does in covering the sport.

In other words, the kind of guy who takes out a loan to build an accessible muni golf course in his hometown of Franklin, Ky., sometimes working the pro shop on his own, and keeping costs down to make sure a weekend round with a cart costs only $28. Or the kind of guy who donates five percent of his winnings to a college scholarship fund for students from his home county. Or the kind of guy who is honored by the Golf Writers Association of America for his “unselfish contributions to the betterment of society.”

So, moments after his heart, intestines, guts and soul were sent through a shredder in what will almost surely be his best chance at a major championship, Perry stood tall. He gave interviews to CBS, The Golf Channel and went to the media room, expressing how grateful he was to be in the theater of competition, admitting he will shed tears later on and fessing up to nerves on his skulled chip shot on 17. In short, he made us connect to the moment, which is pretty much all we can ask.

If Tiger and Phil were The Show on Sunday, then Kenny Perry was The Example of how some players are worth your cheers.

Broadcast moment of the week, part two

“It’s like Frazier-Ali … I’m sure Phil is feeling a tingle right now” – Nick Faldo, CBS, as Mickelson and Woods left the 8th green following a Tiger eagle and Lefty birdie.

A tingle, he said! After that slip of verbal exuberance, Faldo had to turn in his membership card to the Fraternity of Stiff Upper Lips. Brits must be so embarrassed by this American-like outpouring of joy.

Faldo had a good Sunday. It wasn’t a great Sunday, owing to moments such as Cabrera’s four-footer to force a playoff. Jim Nantz asked him, in the crucible of pressure: “What about this putt?” And, nanoseconds before Cabrera drew the putter back, Faldo whispered: “I don’t know, Jim.”

I guess we should give him points for honesty.

Faldo alternately thrilled at the scene like a teenage girl at a Jonas Brothers concert, speaking of sweaty palms, and channeling his inner Johnny Miller by openly criticizing key blunders. By way of example, he killed Lefty’s choice to sort of half-punch his tee shot at 12, and first-guessed Tiger and Mickelson’s choice to use driver on 18. “Why are you hitting driver, guys? Please!” he said, almost leaving the booth to run down the 18th fairway, waving his hands in protest. In the moment, he called Mickelson’s sweeping pull hook out of the rough on 7 to, oh, 12 inches, “the greatest shot of his lifetime.”

And when Tiger hit his second shot off a tree on 18, Faldo was quick with an oh-so-British: “That’s Tiger, done.”

All that said, he gets minus points for a snarky comment on Saturday. Positing that Tiger and Phil could come back from seven shots back, he said, not without a snide tone: “I know six is do-able”, and then fell into a satisfied little chuckle. Considering Greg Norman had departed the premises the day before after a stirring, though ultimately futile, run at the cut line, a knife into Norman’s 1996 ghost was an unattractive bit of harrumph.

Broadcast moment of the week, part three

“I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s too tricky …. I don’t care. They can do whatever they want.” – Sergio Garcia, to the Golf Channel, in major championship form, complaining about Augusta National after a 75-74 weekend left him in a tie-38th.

Never mind that Augusta National just finished its most successful and praised course set-up since the re-do earlier this decade. Let’s instead not spend too much time on El Nino’s latest turn as El Whine-o.

In the legal world, there is a Latin phrase called res ipsa loquitor. It means: “The thing speaks for itself.”

On that note, we move on.

Broadcast moment of the week, part four

“CBS is proud to present … The Masters.” – Pat Summerall.

Summerall! Yes! You hear the voice, close your eyes and you can almost see Hubert Green cruising around the back nine in his Trucker-style Lacoste cap, 1978-style, bell bottoms flaring.

Kudos to CBS for keeping Summerall a part of the Masters with those rejoins.

Further kudos to CBS for what appeared to me to be a slow phasing out of the treacly piano music for a more spirited, horn-heavy, movie-theme soundtrack.

Look. I understand the piano treacle made everybody feel like it was springtime at Augusta and all that. But let’s be honest. After all these years, it was bringing us down. It sounded as if we’d phoned a funeral home, and been put on hold: “Thank you for calling Sullivan’s Morturary … we’re so sorry for your loss … your call is important to us …. please listen to this Masters-CBS piano music while you wait …”

It’s better that CBS follows NBC’s lead. NBC’s U.S. Open music is sort of a John Phillips Sousa-meets-“Rudy”-soundtrack that makes you feel like you’re watching something epic, even if everybody’s six over par. Less piano, more horns, is my message here.

Where do we go from here?

• Hangover City, USA. Harbour Town is always the perfect comedown from Masters week – soothing surf, low-key tournament, pretty sights and a chance for all of us to reflect on what we just saw.

Now don’t mind me while I curl up for a quick and well-earned post-Masters nap with Saturday’s third-round coverage droning on in the background …

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