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Playoff at Masters provides finish worth remembering

Mon., April 15, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sports are great when they make you smile.

Not a leering, taunting, smile in the face of the one who you beat.

A real smile, the kind you can’t suppress even if you want to. And why would you?

This is how the previously divisive and controversial 2013 Masters ends: Two men go after the title, playing aggressively and taking turns hitting the shot that will win.

Australia’s Adam Scott is about 20 feet from the hole on No. 18. If he makes the putt, he’ll go 9-under par and one stroke up on Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, who is in the final group, one group behind him.

Scott uses a long putter that looks like a carbon steel fishing rod. He puts his left hand on the top, grabs the lower part with his right, and hits. The ball goes in. Scott reacts with one of the most genuine and joyous high-fives golf has ever seen.

Now it’s Cabrera’s turn. Cabrera, who won the Masters in 2009, hits a stunning chip shot, just missing the birdie by a few feet. He walks to the ball and treats it like a tap-in.

Cabrera putts as if he has some place to go. Sudden-death playoff.

They are an incongruous pair. Scott, 32, lean and handsome, is under enormous pressure. Fellow Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman also had an opportunity to win Sunday, Day especially. Despite the golf talent Australia produces, no Australian has ever won the Masters.

Cabrera, 43, is called El Pato, or the Duck, because of his waddling gait. He reminds me a little of Tony Soprano, and I mean that as a compliment. He stands out. He’s balding. He’s not elegant. He has presence. When he enters a room, you make sure he has room.

Oddsmakers gave him plenty. The pre-tournament odds against Scott winning were 25-1. The odds against Cabrera were 80-1.

Above them the sky is full of water and about five different shades of gray. Until their virtuoso duel, the final round has been as dull as the weather. Not now.

On the first hole, No. 18, they match each other shot for shot and proceed to No. 10. Cabrera hits a drive, shakes his head like he’s done something wrong and perhaps yells “terrible disparo,” terrible shot.

It’s a beauty. Scott responds with one of his own. As they move down the fairway, Cabrera turns and gives Scott a thumbs-up.

Do you know how extraordinary this is? Do you know how far Cabrera has fallen since his Masters victory? He’s entered seven tournaments in 2013 and finished in the top 25 in one of them. You saw the odds.

Cabrera and Scott are now on the green. Cabrera putts beautifully, the ball breaking at the last moment and rolling toward the cup and next to the cup and – and not going in.

Scott is next. He’s about 12 feet away. With the long carbon-steel fishing rod he taps the ball and – it goes in.

Scott hugs caddie Stevie Williams. Scott hugs Cabrera. Before Scott walks off, Cabrera puts his arm around him and they embrace again.

Until late Sunday, the tournament had been defined by penalties. The first was on 14-year-old Tianlang Guan for slow play. Guan, however, is as quick with his wit as his game was slow. He was penalized a stroke.

Tiger Woods was penalized two strokes for a drop that enhanced his position and should not have been allowed.

Augusta National Golf Club: See the azaleas and the penalty box.

Some fans and Tiger detractors will treat the tournament as if it proves golf likes Tiger better than everybody else.

But as the tournament reached its glorious conclusion, Tiger had long been eliminated.

This wasn’t about a conspiracy.

This was about great golf, great sportsmanship, and joy.

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