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Touched By An Angel

Touched By An Angel
Champions unite: Two-time Open winner Tiger Woods, left, and Angel Cabrera share a lighter moment during the presentation ceremony. (Jason Bridge/USGA)

By David Shefter, USGA

Oakmont, Pa. – Some have called the beast known as Oakmont Country Club hellish, even devilish.

Few, if any, of the competitors at this week’s 2007 U.S. Open would say it was a trip to heaven. But late Sunday afternoon, the venerable western Pennsylvania venue, which had befuddled and exasperated the world’s best golfer, was touched by an Angel.

That’s Angel Cabrera, the first South American to ever get his name engraved on the U.S. Open trophy. The 37-year-old from Cordoba, Argentina, who took up the game at 15 at the urging of fellow countryman Eduardo Romero, managed to not only survive the 7,230-yard, par-70 layout, but also fended off two of the world’s best players to register a one-stroke victory.

Cabrera’s final-round 69 was good enough to hold off World No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 3-ranked Jim Furyk. His second 1-under round of the championship – he opened with 69 on Thursday – gave him a 72-hole total of 5-over 285, the same winning score Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy posted a year ago at Winged Foot. It’s also the first time Cabrera, a three-time champion on the European Tour, has ever won in the U.S., and he’s the fourth consecutive U.S. Open champion who hails from a country south of the Equator. New Zealand’s Michael Campbell took the title in 2005 at Pinehurst and South Africa's Retief Goosen won in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills.

"I feel great," said Cabrera. "It’s a great moment for me. I can’t believe it."

Playing four groups in front of Sunday’s final pairing of Woods and 54-hole leader Aaron Baddeley, Cabrera had the luxury of being able to post a number and let the others behind him chase. Once he tapped in for par at 18, all he could was wait, hope and, perhaps, pray Furyk and Woods wouldn’t catch him.

Although Cabrera seemed relaxed sitting in the clubhouse, it had to be the longest and most anxious 47 minutes of his career, especially knowing the quality of his two pursuers. Furyk, who made up ground with birdies at 14 and 15, saw his chances go awry with a lip-out for par at 17. This after his drive found thick greenside rough and his second shot also stayed short of the putting surface in the rough.

"I didn’t know what [Cabrera] made on 17," said Furyk, who was tied for the lead at five over before the bogey. "There was no way for me to know that. I heard the groan. [I] knew he missed a putt of some sort, but I didn’t know if it was a birdie or a par putt."

Furyk’s approach to 18 stopped in the fringe and he failed to hole the chip, settling for a second consecutive 70.

"No one likes consolation prizes," said Furyk, a Pennsylvania native. "I’m proud of the way I played, and I’m proud of those finishes. But … second is not that much fun, to be honest with you."

Everyone was waiting for Woods, one of the best closers in golf, to make a second-nine charge. His best birdie chance came at the par-3 13th when his tee shot stopped six feet from the flagstick. The delicate downhill, right-to-left putt burned the edge of the hole.

"I hit so many good golf shots that landed 10 to 12 feet away that had two to three feet of break," said Woods of his play this week. "I had to be real defensive to feed the ball down there."

He grinded out pars at 15 and 16 before his tee shot to 17 found a greenside bunker. Woods watched his second shot roll past the hole into the intermediate cut of rough. He holed a 5-foot par putt to give himself one final birdie opportunity at 18 to force a playoff. It didn’t happen. His approach from the right rough stopped 20 feet beyond the flagstick and his birdie try missed to the right.

That’s when Cabrera began high-fiving everyone in his party. He becomes the fifth South American to win a USGA title, following Fay Crocker of Uruguay (1955 U.S. Women’s Open), countryman Roberto de Vicenzo (1980 U.S. Senior Open), Nicole Perrot of Chile (2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior) and Julieta Granada of Paraguay (2004 U.S. Girls’ Junior).

"I don’t know yet, but we are going to celebrate someplace," said Cabrera, whose previous best finish in a major had been a tie for fourth at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, which is where that event will be played next month. "I have some friends here."

Cabrera was hardly mentioned entering the final round, as all focus turned to Woods, who was 0-for-28 in majors when trailing after 54 holes, but a perfect 12-for-12 when leading going into a final round. It looked like it might be his day when Baddeley triple-bogeyed the first hole, giving Woods a share of the lead with Stephen Ames. That brought a bevy of competitors back into the fray.

And at one point on the first nine, five different players owned or shared the lead: Baddeley, Woods, Ames, Steve Stricker and Cabrera.

Things began to separate after everyone completed Oakmont’s fearsome foursome, better known as holes seven through 10. It eventually turned into a three-horse race, with Cabrera establishing the pace. He stuck his approach to 11 within a few feet for a birdie, then birdied the 500-yard, par-4 15th with another gorgeous iron shot from the intermediate cut of rough to two feet. That gave him what appeared to be an insurmountable three-shot lead over Woods. Furyk joined the party with his back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15, but it wasn’t enough.

Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, would settle for a second straight runner-up showing. He joined Woods, who took home a silver medal for a second time. He finished two shots behind Campbell in 2005.

And since missing the cut last year at Winged Foot, Woods has now gone 1-1-2-2 in his last four majors. Zach Johnson bested him at the Masters in April.

"Finishing second is not fun," said Woods. "To play so hard and come up short, it’s just disappointing."

Woods and Furyk were gracious in defeat at the prize ceremony, congratulating Cabrera for his fine performance. Woods and Cabrera had a private moment, but he wouldn’t reveal what he told the South American – one reporter wasn’t aware Woods spoke Spanish.

"I’ll keep that between us," said Woods. "Angel just played a beautiful round of golf today. He put all the pressure on Jim and I and we just came up one shot short."

Added Cabrera: "I was telling Tiger that he’s going to be a local at Torrey Pines [in San Diego] next year, so he should win there.

"It is very difficult to describe this moment. Probably tomorrow when I wake up with this trophy beside me in my bed, I will realize that I have won the U.S. Open."

David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.


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