Heavenly finish for Angel

Published 3:58 am Monday, April 13, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The cheers came from every corner of Augusta National, the kind of mayhem that had been missing at the Masters.

The last one was for Angel Cabrera, a most unlikely champion.

He heard the roars for Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, a supercharged duel that was pure theater. Cabrera never lost hope when a roar rattled the pines after Kenny Perry got within inches of an ace on the 16th hole to build a two-shot lead with two holes to play.

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This is how it’s supposed to be on Sunday at Augusta National.

And it was.

‘‘It’s a course that you can do a lot of birdies, a lot of bogeys,’’ Cabrera said through an interpreter. ‘‘A lot of magical things happen. It’s simply the Masters.’’

And the most magical thing of all happened just as the sun began to set.

Perry, a 48-year-old on the verge of becoming golf’s oldest champion, had gone 22 consecutive holes without a bogey until he dropped shots on each of the last two holes for a 71 to force a three-man playoff that included Chad Campbell.

Cabrera, who also shot 71, looked like the odd man out when his tee shot on the first playoff hole landed behind a Georgia pine, and his 4-iron struck another one. But he managed to scratch out a par with a sand wedge to 8 feet and a pressure-packed putt.

When luck turned against Perry on the second extra hole — a splotch of mud on his ball in the fairway that led to a bogey — Cabrera made a routine par to become the first Argentine in a green jacket.

At No. 69 in the world, he became the lowest-ranked player to win the Masters since the world ranking began in 1986.

‘‘This is a great moment, the dream of any golfer to win the Masters,’’ Cabrera said during the green jacket ceremony. ‘‘I’m so emotional I can barely talk.’’

Ditto for the 30,000 fans who witnessed this stunning show.

‘‘I think I lost my hearing on a few holes, they were screaming so loud,’’ Perry said.

He also lost the tournament.

Perry bladed a chip across the 17th green for one bogey, then hit into a bunker on the 18th hole and narrowly missed a 15-foot par putt that would have brought him the major championship he covets.

But he was gracious as ever, clapping for Cabrera when he holed an 8-foot putt for his unlikely par to stay in the playoff. And even in defeat, it was hard not to appreciate the give-and-take nature that was restored at the Masters.

‘‘I may never get this opportunity ever again, but I had a lot of fun being in there,’’ Perry said. ‘‘I had the tournament to win. I lost the tournament. But Angel hung in there. I was proud of him.’’

Two years after winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Cabrera became the sixth player this decade to win multiple majors.

And he finally gave Argentines some happy memories of the Masters.

It was 41 years ago when Roberto de Vicenzo made one of golf’s most famous gaffes, signing for the wrong score that denied him a spot in a Masters playoff.

When Cabrera returned home as the U.S. Open champion two years ago, de Vicenzo gave him a special gift.

‘‘He gave me a frame where he has in his hand a green jacket, and he says, ’I hope this gives you luck, so someday you can bring back a green jacket for yourself,’’’ Cabrera said.

Campbell finished with a 69 to join the playoff at 12-under 276, but he was eliminated on the first extra hole when he found a bunker from the middle of the 18th fairway, then watched his 6-foot par putt lip out of the hole.

It was his second close call in a major. Six years ago at the PGA Championship, Campbell was one shot behind on the 18th hole at Oak Hill when Shaun Micheel hit a 7-iron to 2 inches.

‘‘I just got beat by a better shot,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘And today, I kind of blew it myself. I hit bad shots.’’

The final hour was almost enough to make a dizzy gallery forget about the Woods-Mickelson fireworks hours earlier.

For those who feared Augusta National had become too tough, too dull and far too quiet, the roars returned in a big way. Mickelson and Woods played together in a final round of a major for the first time in eight years, and they proved to be the best undercard in golf.

Mickelson tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine to get into contention. Woods chased him around Amen Corner, then caught him with three birdies in a four-hole stretch that captured the imagination of thousands of fans who stood a dozen deep in spots for a view.

But it ended with a thud.

Mickelson lost his momentum with a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek on the par-3 12th, and when he missed a 4-foot eagle putt and a 5-foot birdie putt down the stretch. He had to settle for a 67 that left him three shots behind.

Woods bogeyed the last two holes for a 68 to finish another shot back.

Then came the Main Event.

Perry did not make a birdie until his 20-foot putt on the 12th curled into the side of the cup. Campbell, playing in the group ahead, narrowly missed two eagle putts on the back nine to forge a brief share of the lead.

It looked like Perry had the green jacket buttoned up when he hit his tee shot to within a foot of the cup on the par-3 16th hole for a two-shot lead over Campbell and Cabrera, who made an 18-foot birdie putt on the 16th just to stay in the game.

Then came his stunning collapse, the second time he has lost a major in a playoff. The other time was 13 years ago at Valhalla, which has haunted Perry the rest of his career.

‘‘I’m not going to feel sorry,’’ Perry said. ‘‘If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I can live with it. I really can. Great players get it done, and Angel got it done. This is his second major he won. I’ve blown two. But that’s the only two I’ve had chances of winning.’’

Despite all the cheers and excitement that returned to the Masters, no one really lit up the back nine the way Jack Nicklaus did when he won in 1986, or Mickelson and Ernie Els did in 2004.

But the possibility was there, and that’s all that mattered. All afternoon, there was endless chatter about who would make the big charge on the back nine.

Mickelson didn’t bother waiting that long.

His charge came on the front nine, a record-tying 30 as he raced up the leaderboard and delighted a massive gallery with four consecutive birdies. The most significant came at No. 7, when he powered a shot around the trees to inside a foot.

Fans who stood a dozen-deep behind the green were jumping and waving their arms, a scene that looked more like a Duke-North Carolina basketball game than staid, proper Augusta National.

It was perfect timing — and perfect location.

About 40 yards down the hill, Cabrera played his pitch to the par-5 second just as the loudest cheer of early afternoon shook the pines.

For the final pairing at the Masters, Cabrera and Perry didn’t get much attention. Their gallery was thin, about one-fifth the size of the mass following Woods and Mickelson. There was no energy. No birdies, either.

‘‘I felt that when Tiger and Phil were making birdies and were making a move, I had to make a move myself in order to be the winner,’’ Cabrera said.

Padraig Harrington, whose bid for a third straight major officially ended with a 73 to finish even par for the week, looked over to see Perry and Cabrera make the turn.

‘‘There’s hardly anybody watching the leaders,’’ he said.

But they got plenty of attention later, after the Woods-Mickelson circus left town.

‘‘It’s sure nice to hear the roars coming back out here,’’ Larry Mize said. ‘‘That’s what you love about this place.’’

Masters Scores


At Augusta National Golf Club

Augusta, Ga.

Purse: $7.5 million

Yardage: 7,435; Par: 72

Final Round

x-won on second hole of playoff

x-Angel Cabrera 68-68-69-71 — 276

Chad Campbell 65-70-72-69 — 276

Kenny Perry 68-67-70-71 — 276

Shingo Katayama 67-73-70-68 — 278

Phil Mickelson 73-68-71-67 — 279

John Merrick 68-74-72-66 — 280

Steve Flesch 71-74-68-67 — 280

Tiger Woods 70-72-70-68 — 280

Steve Stricker 72-69-68-71 — 280

Hunter Mahan 66-75-71-69 — 281

Sean O’Hair 68-76-68-69 — 281

Jim Furyk 66-74-68-73 — 281

Camilo Villegas 73-69-71-69 — 282

Tim Clark 68-71-72-71 — 282

Geoff Ogilvy 71-70-73-69 — 283

Todd Hamilton 68-70-72-73 — 283

Graeme McDowell 69-73-73-69 — 284

Aaron Baddeley 68-74-73-69 — 284