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Defending Champ Cabrera Kicks the Habit

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2008 U.S. OpenSAN DIEGO -- If Angel Cabrera is smoking again this week at Torrey Pines Golf Course, it will be his golf game that's red-hot and not the Lucky Strikes and Camels.
 
The 38-year-old Argentinean has snuffed out his cigarette habit since winning last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he famously declared, 'There are some players that have psychologists. I smoke.'
 
He's no longer playing between puffs.
 
'I'm feeling much better now that I don't smoke,' Cabrera said after a practice round Tuesday. 'But my life goes on whether I smoke or not, so I don't really care much about it.'
 
And he doesn't concern himself with the decision to exempt players and caddies from the no-smoking policy at Torrey Pines, where the only other puffs this weekend will be from hot dogs grilling or the fog rolling in off the Pacific Ocean.
 
Cabrera, who's hoping his splendid combination of length and accuracy off the tee helps him master the picturesque cliff-top course, said he hasn't compensated for the cigarettes in any way.
 
'No, not really. Everything is still the same,' he said. 'Just without the smoking.'
 
Actually, one thing is different since he kicked the habit: he hasn't won since holding off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk for a one-stroke victory at last year's Open.
 
He's hoping to recapture that magic this week, and he thinks he has the game to tame golf's toughest test yet again, which this year measures a record 7,643 yards.
 
'Yes, I think that it helps long hitters, it favors long hitters,' Cabrera said. 'But it's a U.S. Open golf course and you have to be straight off the tee.'
 
That, he usually is.
 
'My game is in very good shape, especially the long game. I'm working on my putting, trying to improve a little bit. Hopefully I have,' Cabrera said.
 
He tested out a new putter Tuesday in hopes of finding a solution to his short game woes.
 
'I'm having a rough time on my putting right now. So I'm trying different things, different putters,' Cabrera said. 'I have two putters, the one that I used last year at Oakmont and a new one. So I'll see. The one that feels best I'm going to play on Thursday.'
 
One thing Cabrera hopes is a carbon copy of last year is his steely nerves, even without the nicotine assist.
 
'I think that the most important thing that I did last year was having a lot of patience on the golf course, specifically on the third day,' Cabrera said. 'The third day things went rough for me and having patience and waiting, I think that was the key. So, I hope to do the same thing this year.'
 
After firing a third-round 76 last year, Cabrera rebounded with a 69 on Sunday, when he went toe-to-toe with Woods and Furyk on the leaderboard and prevailed, becoming the first champion to shoot 76 and win the Open since Johnny Miller did it in the third round in 1973, also at Oakmont.
 
If Cabrera can recapture that performance and defend his title at Torrey Pines, there will be another big bash waiting for him back home like the one thrown in his honor in Argentina a year ago.
 
'There was a parade, and also the celebrations lasted for a couple of days,' Cabrera recalled. 'It was very big for Argentina, not only for Cabrera, but also for the country.'
 
Of course, there would be no victory cigar this time, at least not one that's lit.
 
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