After 74 holes and 30,695 yards at a Masters to remember, the difference between the Argentine and Australian was one inch from 15 feet away.
Shortly after Angel Cabrera’s putt curled just past the right side of the rain-soaked cup on the second playoff hole Sunday afternoon, Adam Scott buried his winner in golf’s version of nothing-but-net to give the nation down under its first green jacket.
“That’s golf,” Cabrera said. “Golf gives and takes, so yeah, sometimes you make those putts, sometimes you just miss them. That’s golf.”
The breathtaking victory came minutes after a stunning performance by the duo on the final hole of regulation.
With Cabrera striding up the fairway on No. 18, Scott was on the green and faced a birdie putt similar to his eventual winner in the hope of breaking a tie with Cabrera at 8-under. Scott’s putt circled the lip and dropped in. He celebrated wildly with his caddy, forgetting for a moment that a former Masters champion was stalking him.
“Well, it was a split second (but) I thought I’d won,” Scott said. “You should never count your chickens, but that was the putt we’ve seen so many guys make to win and that’s what I thought — it’s time for me to step up and see how much I want this.”
Cabrera wanted it as well
“The only thing in my head was about winning,” he said.
Not to be outdone, with sheets of ice in his veins, Cabrera matched Scott’s feat to join him at 9-under and force the playoff. Cabrera’s gritty make set Twitter ablaze. In one of the better tweets, Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson exclaimed, “Cabrera is tougher than woodpecker lips. What a competitor!”
And how fitting it was these two playing extra golf — they were the only two who shot par or better every day on a course that seemingly scoffed and mocked the leader board whenever a birdie putt was in the balance.
Putting heartbreaks on the rainy afternoon ended the come-from-behind hopes of a who’s-who of golf’s finest. Tiger Woods would lament his putter by day’s end, as would Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia. Those same temperamental greens would chase away former co-leader Brandt Snedeker and eventually shut down the ever-steady Jason Day.
But when the final two groups made their way down No. 18, Scott and Cabrera would not be denied.
The playoff round began with a pair of pars on a replay of No. 18. The action then switched to No. 10, a hole that had proved mercurial for Cabrera and impervious to Scott.
In his four rounds, Cabrera bogeyed No. 10 twice and birdied it once. Scott recorded three pars and a bogey.
Both hit their first drives the same length down the fairway then each watched their second shots land solidly on the green, 15 feet from the hole in opposite directions, to set up the decisive putts.
For both men, this magical run was years in the making from opposite ends of the spectrum. After winning the Masters in 2009, Cabrera suffered a number of health issues. Shortly after that victory, severe pain forced him to have 10 teeth replaced. Tendinitis in his left wrist short-circuited his 2010 season, then in 2011 he underwent surgery to repair a tear in his lower digestive tract.
His 2013 season had been unremarkable prior to Augusta, his best outing being a tie for 16th at the Shell Houston Open.
Scott had been brilliant on his previous two Sundays at Augusta. Problem was, he was coming from too deep a deficit each time. In 2011, he rose from 31st to sixth entering Sunday and shot a 67, but it was anticlimactic, for Charl Schwartzel had stunned the field earlier in the day with birdies on the final four holes.
In 2012, Scott fired a 66 on Sunday but that only got him within six strokes of winner Bubba Watson.
After this year, Cabrera said Scott had better prepare for his life to change.
“It’s going to change quite a lot, his life,” Cabrera said. “He’s been looking for it, searching for it, this major title. He’s achieved it, so I’m pretty sure his life is going to change really fast right now.”
“I don’t know how that happens. It seems a long way away from a couple years ago here and even last July, when I was trying to win another major,” he said. “I felt my way today. There was some luck there somewhere. I don’t know how to digest it all at the moment, but it was incredible.”
In a role reversal, the scintillating showdown between Cabrera and Scott overshadowed an impressive charge by Woods.
Woods began the day thinking he needed to shoot a 65 to win.
“If I shot 65, I thought I could win it outright,” Woods said. “It looked like it might be the number.”
If Woods had managed a 65, he would have indeed won the tournament by a stroke. Instead, his putter abandoned him on a number of key birdie putts.
“I struggled hitting putts hard enough,” he said. “Every putt I left short for probably the first eight holes.”
When the rains came, Woods said his fate was sealed, despite the fact he would shoot better on the back nine (33) than the front (37).
“Well, chip shots were skidding, approach shots, if you flighted them, would skid,” he said. “And the greens were much slower. The putts just weren’t rolling out.”
Woods finished tied for fourth with Marc Leishman at 5-under.
Day, Scott’s fellow Australian, briefly reached 9-under before collapsing with bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17. He missed a birdie putt on the 18th that could have pushed him into a temporary tie with Scott and Cabrera. Instead, he would finish third at 7-under.
Snedeker, playing with Cabrera, began his day with a birdie to get to 8-under, but a bogey on No. 4 sent him spiraling down the leader board. He shot 3-over par for the day and finished in a tie for 6th with Thornbjorn Olesen, who rose from even to 4-under with a final round of 68.