Masters champ Cabrera takes spot in marquee group


2009 U.S. OpenFARMINGDALE, N.Y. ' Angel Cabreras win at the Masters earned him a spot in the marquee opening threesome at the U.S. Open.
It almost never happened. The only man with a chance at this years Grand Slam nearly skipped the Masters.
Barely a week before teeing off at Augusta National, Cabrera was so disenchanted with his game that he considered pulling out of the seasons first major championship. Couldnt putt at all, he said, meaning there was no way he could handle the demands of Augusta.
Thats when fellow Argentine and mentor Eduardo Romero stepped in with a vital assist ' again.
Romero talked Cabrera into playing, and things fell into place. Cabrera won that Masters in a playoff, his second major in 22 months, and when the U.S. Open begins at Bethpage Black on Thursday, hell be alongside fellow reigning major winners Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington in the featured group.
Now after winning the Masters, I know what its all about, Cabrera said. I can go through it a lot easier.
That wasnt the case after he pulled off the surprise win at the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
He was never near the hunt last year as the defending champion at Torrey Pines, shooting 79-76, missing the cut by a mile and later acknowledging that he was ill-equipped for all the responsibilities that came with defending a major title.
But this week, spurred on in part by plenty of Spanish-speaking fans whove swarmed to Bethpage Black, Cabrera seems relaxed and at ease.
Sometimes he needed somebody to push him, said Romero, at 54 the oldest man in this field after earning a spot as the U.S. Senior Open winner last year. But hes a good player. Big talent. Hes a favorite. Cabrera is one of the favorite players now.
Romero can take much of the credit for that.
He lived two blocks from Cabrera in their hometown of Cordoba, and encouraged him as a teenager to take up golf. Cabrera, whose career began with borrowed clubs gleaned through his connections as a caddie, tried three times to get his European Tour card in 1995. He went 0-for-3, so Romero bankrolled him for that season.
A good investment, without question.
Cabrera has won only twice on the PGA Tour, but both were majors. Known throughout his career for carrying the nickname Duck ' even Romero says he walks like one ' Cabrera is finally getting some attention for his game, too.
If I hadnt won a U.S. Open and a Masters I wouldnt be playing with Tiger this week, Cabrera said. Its great to be able to play with him, to be playing aside the No. 1 player in the world. Its an honor. I wish I could play with him every week.
Can Cabrera win the Grand Slam? Romero doesnt see why not, noting that the Masters win is still paying big dividends in Argentina, where golfs popularity is exploding.
We have to say thank you to Cabrera, Romero said, because after the Masters tournament the people are still celebrating over there.
For his part, Cabrera ' who has played only twice in the U.S. since winning the Masters, missing the cut at Quail Hollow and tying for 14th at The Players Championship a week later ' says he isnt letting himself daydream about winning all four majors this year, or anything much past this U.S. Open.
I dont think of that, Cabrera said. No, first Ive got to play good this week. Have a good tournament this week. Then Ill think of the next tournament.
He won the Masters despite having little belief in his game.
These days, he isnt questioning his game whatsoever.
I started the year great, winning the Masters, Cabrera said. Obviously, that gives me a lot of confidence to get things done this week.
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