AUGUSTA, April 13 – Argentina's Angel Cabrera, who had not cracked the top five in any event in more than a year, won the 73rd Masters on Sunday in a sudden-death playoff with some unlikely help from a tree.
Cabrera, who had not won a title since claiming his first major at the 2007 US Open at Oakmont, made a par on the second playoff hole, the par-4 10th, to defeat Kenny Perry, who at 48 could have become golf’s oldest major chamnpion.
"This moment, and the win in Oakmont, are the greatest moments of my life," Cabrera said. "It’s incredible. I still can’t believe it."
American Chad Campbell, who joined compatriot Perry and Cabrera in finishing 72 holes at Augusta National Golf Club on 12-under par 276, was ousted on the first playoff hole – the par-4 18th – when he missed a four-foot par putt.
Cabrera smashed his tee shot on the first playoff hole behind a tree right of the fairway, where his rivals reached.
Instead of pitching out, Cabrera took a risky hook right of the massive pine and thwacked his ball off a tree.
"I had to put it through there. Simple as that," Cabrera said.
Even countryman Maradona’s football "Hand of God" would have a hard time topping the lucky bounce Cabrera received as Cabrera asked caddie Ruben Yorio where the ball landed.
"He said, ‘We’re fine. It’s in the fairway,’" Cabrera said.
Cabrera fired his approach six feet past and made par to continue after Campbell collapsed and Perry struggled to a par only to be undone a hole later.
"This is the Masters," Cabrera said. "A lot of magical things happen."
The playoff moved to the 10th, where Cabrera found the green in two as Perry sent his approach left of the green, saying, "I was juiced up and I hit it too far over the green."
Perry, who was two strokes ahead with two holes remaining in regulation, chipped across the green and missed a comeback putt to seal his fate as Cabrera two-putted from 10 feet for victory and a 1.35 million-dollar top prize.
"This is a great moment. I’m so emotional I can barely talk," Cabrera said. "I had lost confidence in my game but I have been working hard and it’s back."
Cabrera, the 17th winner in the past 18 Masters from the final pairing, and Perry each shot 71 Sunday. Campbell shot 69.
Perry had not made a bogey in 22 holes and had the green jacket within his grasp until a bogey-bogey regulation finish. He missed a 15-foot par putt at 18 to win the Masters.
"I’ve seen Tiger make it. I knew exactly what it was," Perry said. "That was the most disappointing putt because I hit it too easy. You’ve got to give that putt a run. How many chances do you have to win the Masters?"
Heartache was back for Perry, who also lost a playoff to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship in his only other real chance to win a major.
"I’ve got two to think about now," Perry said. "I’m not going to feel sorry. If this is the worst thing that happens to me I can live with it. Angel got it done. He has won two. I’ve blown two. It was disappointing. Just so close."
Perry had won seven of his prior eight starts when leading after 54 holes but could not win his first major.
"I’m not going to hang my head from this deal," Perry said. "I fought hard. I just didn’t get it done. I had the tournament to win. I lost the tournament."
Campbell, runner-up at the 2003 PGA Championship and third at the 2006 Masters, also missed a chance for a first major.
"I missed a lot of opportunities but I played really well," Campbell said. "I take a lot of positives from it."
A day that saw Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson make astonishing runs at the leaders from seven strokes off the pace ended with the first South American winner of the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.
"When Tiger and Phil were making a move, I knew that I had to make a move myself to be the winner," Cabrera said.
Woods had three birdies and an eagle on par-5 holes and birdied the par-3 16th to join Mickelson on Perry’s heels as Cabrera went one-over on the front nine. But a bogey-bogey finish doomed Woods’ bid for a 15th major title.
"It was a struggle all day," Woods said.
Woods, in his first major after an eight-month layoff from left knee surgery, is 14-for-14 when leading majors after 54 holes but has never rallied on the last day to win a major.
Mickelson matched a Masters record with a six-under 30 on the front nine, but sent a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th for a double bogey and even with two birdies in the next three holes could not recover, missing two short birdie putts and taking a bogey at 18.
"The ball went in the water and I stopped making putts," Mickelson lamented.
It was the first Masters playoff since Tiger Woods beat Chris DiMarco in 2005 and the first three-man playoff since 1987, when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman after Seve Ballesteros was ousted on the first extra hole.
Japan’s Shingo Katayama’s birdied 18 to finish fourth on 278, matching his best major result from the 2001 PGA Championship.
Mickelson was fifth on 279, one stroke ahead of fellow Americans Woods, John Merrick, Steve Stricker and Steve Flesch.