OpinionTuesday, July 8, 2014
Ángel Cabrera victorious in West Virginia
One thing’s for sure, if Ángel Cabrera’s driver is on song and his putting is reliable he’s a formidable opponent, particularly if you’re up against him in the final pairing Sunday.
And at the Greenbriar Classic everything was firing on all cylinders, where the 44-year old double-majors winner pounded all rivals into submission with a 12-under par weekend of 64-64, making golf look positively easy.
In part perhaps because this Donald Ross-design classic compares closely in altitude and eye appeal to his home-town course in Villa Allende, Córdoba, Cabrera looked really comfortable all week, crunching drives with pin-point accuracy well over 300 yards and on the few holes he made mistakes, able to soft-hand wedges and recovery flips close from rough that others found painfully difficult.
That meant come Sunday he played in the final grouping with Billy Hurley III, who served five years in the US Navy prior to joining the Tour. Hurley led both second and third rounds after 7-under par 63 on Friday.
Whether it was just plain nerves, trying to capture his first PGA Tour title, or being out-driven by sometimes 50 and sometimes 80 yards, Hurley was out of the big picture by the halfway stage, unable to resurge from four bogeys in his first seven holes.
Cabrera’s new challenge came from early-starter George McNeil, whose 61 meant he’d posted the target of 14-under while the burly Cordobés was still playing the front nine, trailing by one. He soon took care of that.
After missing makeable birdie attempts on the 9th and 10th Cabrera grabbed birdies at the 11th and 12th, and followed up by holing an 8-iron for an eagle-2 at the 13th, opening a 3-stroke advantage.
“It was an in-between yardage,” he said later. “I was actually at 182 yards and between the 7 and 8-iron, and I was arguing with my caddie and I said, “I’m just going to hit a hard 8-iron” and obviously it was a good decision.”
A couple of bogeys followed, neither the result of bad shots, reduced his lead to one, but magnificent 330yd-plus drives at the 16th and par-five 17th resolved that, clearing the way for a two-stroke victory, Cabrera’s first in North America since the 2009 Masters.
In fact his last top-10 was as far back as the 2013 Travelers Championship and this year, coming into this West Virginia mountain resort, he’d missed the cut in nine of 16 starts. “After the 2009 Masters victory, I haven’t been too consistent, but I’ve been working very hard of late to get back to where I think I should be,” the newly-crowned champion said.
Where he is today is US$1.1 million richer and already juiced up for the Open Championship at Hoylake in two week’s time, a venue that is more suited to Cabrera’s long-driving attributes than perhaps any other British Open venue. Roberto De Vicenzo won there in 1967 at age 44 and 93 days. Come Hoylake Cabrera will be six months older.