AUGUSTA, Ga. — Angel Cabrera usually comes up big in these situations.
He did again.
It just wasn’t enough to win his second green jacket.
Cabrera forced a playoff with a brilliant 7-iron to 3 feet on the 72nd hole of the Masters, but he lost to Adam Scott on the second hole of a playoff when the Australian rolled in a 12-foot putt.
Cabrera just missed a chip-in from off the front of the green at the first extra hole — letting out an “Ohhhhh!” as it slid by the edge — and his 15-footer on the second playoff hole stopped right next to the cup. He flipped his putter in the air and caught it, then tapped in for par.
At that point, all he could do was watch as Scott made his birdie to become the first Aussie to win the Masters.
Still, it was a remarkable accomplishment for a golfer who came in ranked No. 269 in the world, and never seems to play winning golf unless he’s in the biggest tournaments of all.
“I like the challenges,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “These tournaments are very, very important for me. So sometimes they bring my best out of me.”
Indeed, they do.
Before this Masters, his last win on the PGA or Europeans tours came at the 2009 Masters, where he defeated Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in a playoff. And before that was the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where Cabrera outdueled Jim Furyk down the stretch.
The big guy almost did it again — with his son on the bag, no less — which would have put him a pretty exclusive club as a three-time major champion.
“The only thing in my head,” Cabrera said, “was winning.”
Playing in the final group with Brandt Snedeker, Cabrera was by far the most solid player among the leaders as a steadily increasing rain didn’t bother a player nicknamed “El Pato” — The Duck. He cruised through the front side with two birdies and seven pars, making the turn with a two-stroke lead.
But an errant drive into the pine trees at No. 10 was the first big miscue, leading to a bogey. The shot he would really like to have back came on the par-5 13th, where he drove into the pine straw on top of the hill but still decided to go for the green, 203 yards away.
Cabrera chunked it a bit and watched his ball settle in Rae’s Creek. He wound up with another bogey and surrendered the lead to Jason Day.
In hindsight, Cabrera still thinks it was a good decision.
“I had a very good angle, and I had a very good lie,” he said. “And I was thinking about making a birdie. I told my son that, you know, we could do an eagle, also.”
Another wild shot at the par-5 15th, a hole that gave up birdies to nearly all the contenders, left Cabrera to settle for par. At that point, it looked like he was done, facing a two-shot deficit as he headed to No. 16.
But this duck wasn’t going away that easy.
Cabrera hit a brilliant tee shot over the water at the par-3 hole and sank a 15-footer for birdie to close the gap. Turns out, it was Day who faded away, making bogeys at 16 and 17. But that other Aussie took control, and Cabrera could only watch from the middle of the 18th fairway as Scott celebrated up on the green, having claimed the lead with a 20-footer for birdie.
While Scott went off to sign his scorecard, Cabrera knew what he had to do — hit an even better shot. Boy, did he ever.
From 163 yards away, Cabrera sent his ball soaring toward the green. It rolled to a stop 3 feet from the cup. When Cabrera made the gimme of a putt, he hugged Angel Jr. and headed to the playoff.
Cabrera nearly won it on the first extra hole, a repeat of No. 18. Chipping over Scott’s ball, which also had rolled off the front of the green, Cabrera flipped a shot that landed right where he wanted and looked like it was going in. He settled for par, as did Scott, and the two headed off to No. 10.
In the fading light, especially around the green shaded by towering pine trees, Cabrera putted first and just missed. Scott did not. Game over.
“That’s golf,” Cabrera said. “Golf gives and takes. Sometimes you make those putts, sometimes you just miss them. “
As Scott celebrated, Cabrera walked up with his right hand outstretched. Despite the language barrier, the two have become good friends, from their time as teammates in the Presidents Cup to frequent encounters out on the various world tours. They walked off the green arm in arm, both patting each other on the back. As Cabrera started to pull away, Scott yanked him close and said a few words.
“Angel is a great man,” Scott said. “He’s a gentleman.”
The winner was especially touched by Cabrera’s gesture in the middle of the 10th fairway, before they headed down toward the final green of a long day. After watching Scott’s ball roll to a stop, Cabrera gave him a thumbs-up.
“For him to do that at that point,” Scott said, “was very nice.”
Cabrera didn’t look at this as an opportunity missed. Chances are, you won’t hear much out of him, at least in the United States, for the next few months,
But when the U.S. Open rolls around in June, he might just be one of the guys in the mix.
That’s a pretty big tournament, after all.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Cabrera said. “I’m going to keep on going.”