Monday, April 13, 2009

Cabrera takes home Masters title with playoff victory

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods brought back the roars on a Sunday at Augusta National. But it wasn't enough to win another green jacket for golf's two biggest stars.

Instead, it was Angel Cabrera grabbing the headlines as the winner of the The Masters in a three-man playoff with Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell.

The sudden-death format started at the 18th hole with Perry and Cabrera making par. Campbell was eliminated when he missed a short par putt that lipped the cup.

The remaining two men headed to No. 10 with one destined to win their first green jacket. Perry's second shot went left and missed the green. He was unable to make par, leaving Cabrera two putts for his second major title. He won the U.S. Open in 2007.

Perry, who would have become the oldest winner in Masters history at age 48, and Cabrera went into Sunday tied for the lead at 11-under 205, seven strokes ahead of a group including Woods and Mickelson.

Mickelson didn't take long to cut into the deficit, posting birdies on six of his first eight holes to move within one shot of the lead. His front nine of 30 tied the tournament record set by three others in Masters history.

His charge was briefly halted when his tee shot on the 12th hole found the water and he made double bogey. Birdies on No. 13 and No. 15 righted him before a bogey on the final hole put him in the clubhouse with a 5-under 67 and four shots off the lead.

Woods had a start that was less spectacular, but he still kept pace with eagle on No. 8 to go with four birdies. But he slumped at the end with consecutive bogeys to finish one behind Mickelson with a 68.

While patrons followed the star-studded grouping, Perry methodically earned a two-shot lead with three birdies and 13 pars through 16 holes. But like Woods, he made consecutive bogeys on the final two holes and ended knotted with Campbell and Cabrera at 12 under.

This was the fourth straight round played in warm, sunny conditions. The course could be there for the taking, especially with the greens still a bit soft after severe overnight storms swept through Georgia following the second round.

The atmosphere was electric, the roars returning to Augusta after some lackluster finishes in recent years.

Mickelson, playing with Woods in front of a gallery that was 10-deep in places, provided many of the thrills with his dazzling play on the front side. He was trying to pull off one of the greatest final-day comebacks in major championship history and add another Masters title to the ones he captured in 2004 and '06.

Mickelson pulled off a brilliant hook around the trees for a tap-in birdie at No. 7, his best shot of many, and his par at the ninth was nearly as good. He drove deep into the pines right of the fairway, and his escape wound up in the deep bunker fronting the left side of the green. He blasted out to about 5 feet above the flag and sank the slippery putt for a brilliant 4.

Needing only 30 strokes to cover the first nine holes, Mickelson tied the front-nine mark set by Johnny Miller in 1975 and equaled by Greg Norman in 1988 and K.J. Choi in 2004.

Teeing off about an hour ahead of the leaders, Mickelson and Woods were both hoping to win a major for the first time coming from behind on the final round.

Mickelson was the first to arrive at the No. 1 tee. Woods strolled up next, the two rivals greeting each other with a firm handshake and a bit of a staredown.

Perhaps a little too pumped up, they badly hooked their opening tee shots — Mickelson's going right, Woods' sailing left — but each managed to escape with a par. Woods' ball actually ended up between the eighth and ninth fairways, ricocheting off a pine tree. Lefty wound up in the trees right of the fairway.

Mickelson somehow reached the green with his second shot, badly misread a birdie putt and had to make a testy 3-footer to save par. Woods' blocked his second shot, winding up short and right of the green, but a deft touch with the wedge left him a tap-in for par.

More early fireworks were provided by Steve Flesch, who started the day eight strokes back and needing the greatest final-round comeback in Masters history to win.

The left-hander holed out from the fairway for an eagle at par-5 second, then rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at the third hole, the shortest of the par-4s, to quickly slice three strokes off his deficit. But he couldn't keep it going, making the turn five strokes back.

Woods and Mickelson were playing together in the final round at Augusta for the second time. In 2001, Woods went to the final round with a one-stroke lead over Lefty and wrapped up an unprecedented fourth straight major title — the Tiger Slam — with a 68. Mickelson shot 70 and settled for third, three strokes behind.

Their other final-round pairing in a major came at the 1997 PGA Championship, where they closed with 75 in a tournament won by Davis Love III.

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