Argentine Dreams in the City of Angel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' Somewhere south of the sprawling neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, perhaps hunched into his normal chair next to the large plate-glass window overlooking the first tee at Ranelagh Golf Club Roberto De Vicenzo must have been smiling. Like a scene from Field of Dreams, Angel Cabrera eased the aging mans pain with one of the most dogged major finishes since Nick Faldo stunned Greg Norman on this same slice of Georgia splendor.
 
Cabrera wasnt even born when De Vicenzo lost the 1968 Masters at the hands of a clerical error and, to be historically accurate, Argentinas loss is not nearly as acute as Australias seems to be over Normans multiple major misses.
 
Cabreras gusty blow-for-blow with Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell was, by the Argentines own admission, not a quest to free a nations sporting psyche so much as a validation of the hard work the caddie-turned-world-beater has put into his game.
Angel Cabrera of Argentina celebrates his par-saving putt on the first sudden death playoff hole during the final round of the Masters. (Getty Images)

De Vicenzo had bad luck. He had a bad moment. It's not going to change what happened to him, said Cabrera, who grinded out a pair of crucial pars at Augusta Nationals 18th, first in regulation and then in a three-way playoff with Perry and Campbell, on his way to his second major title Sunday at the Masters. This win, to take back to Argentina, it's going to help a lot with our game.
 
That it likely lifted a burden that had been hanging over the 85-year-old patriarch of Argentine golf is only an agreeable happenstance. But the events are not mutually exclusive. Nor was one of the most explosive Sundays in Masters memory a chance happening.
 
Augusta National Golf Club wanted the roars back. Check. Players wanted a return of red numbers on the back nine Sunday. Check. And the fans wanted Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going head-to-head on a Sunday in April. Check and mate.
 
The two-hole playoff and down-to-the-wire finish just seemed like piling on after an electrically charged week ended on a slightly sloppy note with Perry bogeying his final two holes in regulation to squander a late two-stroke lead and then missed both greens in extra innings to come up short, again, in a major.
 
Truth of the matter is this Masters had an embarrassment of storyline riches right from Arnold Palmers ceremonial opening blow. In one memorable week, the Masters bid farewell to Gary Player and Fuzzy Zoeller ' and probably Norman ' and wrapped up with a Sunday that was on the FBR Open side of raucous.
 
Silence is golden for libraries and break-ups, but not at the softer side of Augusta National.
 
The new Augusta National looked a lot like the older, shorter version ' fair but not for the faint of heart. There were a record number of under-par cards on Day 1 (38), Campbell flirted with scoring royalty when he got to 9-under 16 holes into his opening effort and Anthony Kim blitzed to 11 birdies in windy conditions on Friday that he said, would have been a 58, under normal conditions.
 
Despite the return of the roar, the more user-friendly edition of Augusta National will never be mistaken for the Bob Hope Classic east. Augusta National gave and the players took thanks to calm conditions and a calm hand by the pin setters, but there was still punishment to be had.
 
I heard a lot of noise today and didnt hear much last year, Steve Flesch said. I think the excitement of Augusta National is back from where its been the last few years.
 
Even Woods and Mickelson, paired together in the final round at the Masters for the first time since 2001, delivered ' albeit ahead of schedule. Playing from the pack, perhaps the only trick Woods doesnt have in his vast repertoire, the duo headed out an hour ahead of the leaders. By the time the uber-twosome reached the halfway house Mickelson was just two back and Woods was coming to life after an eagle at the eighth.
 
But the mountain, or maybe it was the men at the top, turned out to be too high for the world Nos. 1 and 2, and inevitably the outcome was always out of their hands. Lefty dumped his tee shot at 12 into the water and Woods batted his ball around the pines at the 18th. The two finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
 
Golfs alpha and omega played to a virtual tie, an 18-round no decision, but the jolt they provided to both patrons and players was palpable.
 
I was in awe of what they were doing in front of me. When I saw Tiger and Phil both get it to 10 under, I was like, wow, they must be having a lot of fun up there, Perry said. I was hoping to have a little boxing match (between Woods and Mickelson).
 
For Perry, this one will hurt more than that meltdown at the 1996 PGA Championship. This one was self-inflicted and largely avoidable. After not having marred his card with a bogey all day, Perry, who at 48 was vying to become the games oldest major champion, blocked his drive at the 17th into a pine. He played his next three holes, including the two OT editions, in 2 over par.
 
The man competitors in his mini-tour days dubbed lift and smash because of his unorthodox swing became the victim of nerves and bad decisions and, ultimately, a relentless Argentine.
 
I was young at Valhalla. Here, I thought I had enough experience, Perry said. I thought I had enough to hang in there, I really did.
 
But then the hardest part of Perrys night lay ahead of him. Ken Perry, at home in Kentucky with his ailing wife, taught his son to play the game the hard way, instilling a competitive fire that drove Perry to Ryder Cup perfection last fall at Valhalla.
 
The lessons have continued, with the older Perry driving his son to complete his career with a green jacket. All of which makes Sundays near miss a particularly wrenching blow.
 
I hope they are not too sad, an emotional Perry said. You know, Dad, he will try to pump me up if I know my dad. He just feels sorry for me. He just wanted me to win. I know it with all his heart, he wants the best for me just like I want the best for my kids.
 
De Vicenzo could certainly sympathize. But 41 years of reflection, and one can only imagine a long-awaited green jacket for Argentina, have helped ease the pain. During a interview with the Argentine last year at Ranelagh, De Vicenzos take on his Masters legacy was almost spiritual.
 
For 40 years it made me cry, but now it makes me proud, said De Vicenzo, who turns 86 on Tuesday.
 
Late Sunday evening after all the jackets had been doled out and the property emptied of patrons, Cabrera was joined in Butler Cabin by a large group of flag-waving supporters, including fellow Argentine Andres Romero whod completed his final round hours earlier.
 
He was a very happy champion. It was a very soccerish thing with people singing, Ole, ole, ole, ole . . . Pato, Pato, Pato, Pato, said Mark Lawrie, the executive director of the Argentine Golf Association. I dont know if (Augusta National chairman) Mr. Billy Payne could make out was going on in Butler Cabin. Nothing like that had happened in there before.
 
For De Vicenzo, it was a happening hed waited 41 years for.
 
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