- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

AUGUSTA, Ga. | Perhaps it's only fitting that an Angel emerged from the madness Easter Sunday at the Masters.

Argentina's Angel Cabrera capitalized on Kenny Perry's regulation collapse, carding a pair of sudden-death pars to trump Perry and Chad Campbell in the first three-man playoff at the Masters since 1987.

“I got goose bumps. I was shaking. I can't even explain what was going through my body,” Cabrera said of adding the Masters title to his other unexpected major uprising at the 2007 U.S. Open.

Rarely has a major finale that started with such dramatic promise unraveled in such anticlimactic fashion.

For most of one of the wildest final days in major history, Cabrera (12-under 276) was essentially a footnote. That tends to happen when the world's top two players draw one another in a no-love-lost Sunday pairing and blitz up the leader board after starting the day seven strokes behind 54-hole co-leaders Cabrera and Perry.

Mickelson (9-under 279) and Woods (8-under 280) were alternately brilliant on the first 16 holes, galvanizing the galleries by surging into contention in a finale that conclusively proved that Augusta National has its groove back. After a week of roars and red numbers, Tiger and Lefty pushed the throngs on the property to the brink of hysteria by nearly pulling off the greatest comeback duet in modern history.

Mickelson set the tone by tying the tournament's front-nine scoring record, turning in 30 strokes to reach 10 under and pull within one stroke of Perry, who was five holes behind a then-floundering Cabrera. But Lefty drowned a chunky 9-iron in Rae's Creek en route to a double bogey at the par-3 12th and then missed shots of less than five feet at Nos. 15 (for eagle) and 17 before a bogey at the 18th short-circuited his bid for a third green jacket.

Woods made two-putt birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 and added a point-blank birdie at the 16th to reach 10 under and join Mickelson just one stroke behind Perry playing the 12th. But just as things were getting truly riveting, Woods hit a pair of gruesome finishing drives to close with bogeys and watch his hopes for a 15th major conquest vanish in an uncharacteristic collapse.

It wouldn't be the last.

After surviving the psychological toll exacted by the charges of Woods and Mickelson, Perry put one arm in the green jacket when birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 carried him to 14 under and staked him to a two-shot lead over Cabrera and Campbell.

Attempting to become the oldest champion in Grand Slam history, the 48-year-old looked unflappable after stalking off the 16th tee box with his 8-iron approach to the 170-yard hole still in the air.

“I hit the greatest shot of my life there on 16,” Perry said.

But suddenly overcome with nerves, Perry blocked his drive at the 17th through the trees on the right side, blasted an iron to the back of the green and hit a pitch across the green for a bogey that left him leading Cabrera and Campbell by just a stroke. He then found the first of two yawning fairway bunkers with his drive at the 18th and yanked his approach left, leaving a testy, short-sided pitch.

His suspect short game again let him down, leaving the most important putt of his career short and low after an overly conservative pitch. After playing his previous 22 holes without a bogey, Perry had finished with back-to-back blemishes, throwing away a chance at the game's coveted coat.

“I'm not going to hang my head. I may not every get this chance again, but I had a blast out there,” a red-eyed Perry said. “I just didn't get it done today. But it was my tournament to win. I lost the tournament.”

The playoff was an exercise in attrition; all three players missed the green on the opening playoff hole (No. 18). Playing in the spotlight for the first time all day, Cabrera made a miracle par after his approach from the right tree line caromed off a pine and forced an up-and-down from some 60 yards. While Perry was making a slightly more conventional par, Campbell exited the proceedings as quietly as he had come by gassing a 4-footer for par.

The second playoff hole (No. 10) featured one last wayward approach and clunky pitch from Perry, whose miss for par from 18 feet left Cabrera two putts from 15 feet to win the Masters.

“This is the Masters,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “It's a course that you can do a lot of birdies and a lot of bogeys. A lot of magical things happen.”

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