The 2009 Masters was truly one for the ages. It was a Shakespearian drama played out in three acts.
ACT 1. “Remember the Titans”
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson began the final round 7 shots behind over-night leaders, Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera. For years now, we have yearned for a head to head battle on Sunday of a Major, between the two greatest players in golf. The fact that these two players categorically dislike each other has only heightened the anticipation.
Mickelson was magnificent on the front nine, tying a Masters front nine record by shooting a Midas-like 30. Everything he touched turned to gold, as he completely outplayed his arch rival. Perhaps this was to be his day. Although Woods played very well and made the turn in a superb 33, it was mundane compared to “Lefty.”
Perry was playing a very conservative front nine as he recorded par after par, steadily holding his lead, but all eyes were on the illustrious-pairing five holes ahead of him and his playing partner Cabrera.
Standing on the final hole of “Amen Corner,” one shot out of the lead, Mickelson turned into Hamlet, and pulled his 9-iron into the pond that guards the green.
His mistake seemed to give life to Woods, who parred the 12th. He then did what we always expect him to do: He began his charge. Tiger birdied 13, 15, and then hit one of his magic shots on the par-3 16th. He made another one of his storied twos on this devilish short hole.
The two titans stood on the 17th tee, tied with each other at 10-under (still just one shot out of the lead), and we were all thinking the same thing: Which one will be the winner?
Then, the unthinkable happened, and Tiger Woods proved that he is indeed mortal, by bogeying both of the last two holes, while Mickelson faltered on the final hole with a bogey of his own.
ACT 2. “The Back Nine”
Perry continued playing steady golf and hit all the right shots. He hit his tee shot on the 12th, 35 feet left of the hole, onto the fringe.
Cabrera, the 2007, US Open champion, had played a lot more erratically, and stood two shots behind at 9-under. Perry, who has always been know as a superb driver of the ball, and one of the Tour’s best players, from tee to green, then rolled in the long putt to be at 12-under par and the leader by two.
Chad Campbell, playing in the group immediately in front of the final group, was also playing steady golf. Campbell birdied the par-5s, 13 and 15, and then parred his last three holes to be in the club house at 12-under.
Perry and Cabrera both made birdies on the same par-5s, so they came to the 16th at 13- and 11-under, respectively. Playing first, Cabrera hit a beautiful shot 14 feet behind the hole. Perry then hit what could have been the shot of the tournament and (like Nicklaus, in his historic victory in 1986) his tee shot landing inches from the hole.
Looking into the “Quiet Kentuckian’s” eyes, you could see that he knew, the Masters, was his to win.
To his credit, Cabrera holed his putt first and made birdie to get to 12-under, but after his tap-in, Perry had a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
Kenny Perry is an enigma in sports today. He is 48 years old and not a member of the “work-out” brigade. He will also tell you what he thinks and not what everyone else says.
He took all kinds of grief last year when he said that his major goal was to make the Ryder Cup team in his home state of Kentucky. By making that his focus, he ignored the major championships, but he also won three tour events and was a leading player in the US team’s victory at Valhalla.
He is also recognized as the nicest player on the PGA tour. He is married to his sixth grade sweetheart, Sandy, and still lives in the tiny Kentucky town of Franklin that he grew up in. He is a gentleman, in a gentleman’s game, and has handled his share of adversity, with grace.
Most famously, he continued doing commentary in the announcer’s booth at the 1996 PGA championship instead of hitting balls on the range, before losing in a playoff to Mark Brooks.
The 2009 Masters would be his first major championship and cap a wonderful career. All Perry had to do was play the last two holes one over, and the green jacket would be his.
ACT 3. “The Playoff”
After faltering on those last two holes, Perry finished at 12-under and was joined in the three-man playoff by Campbell and Cabrera.
Perry and Campbell hit perfect tee shots, leaving them short irons into the green. Cabrera hit his shot way to the right, into the trees, leaving him an impossible second shot. The Swashbuckling Argentinean tried to play a miraculous shot, around and under five trees that ricocheted off one of the timbers, straight out into the middle of the fairway.
With Perry and Campbell perfectly positioned, though, it seemed to be over for the affable big man.
Perry then hit his approach shot way to the right, and Campbell followed suit with an equally poor 7-iron into the right bunker. Cabrera had new life, and hit his wedge shot eight feet to the right of the hole.
Perry played a brilliant chip to make his par, and Campbell hit a lovely bunker shot that ran just four feet past the hole.
Putting first, Cabrera found the center of the hole, as Perry applauded. Sadly, Campbell missed his short par putt. Now, there were only two contestants left.
Playing the 10th hole, both players hit perfect drives, but Perry hit a huge hook on his second shot, while Cabrera hit a beautiful approach 16 feet below the hole. Kenny Perry could not pull off a miracle, and all Cabrera had to do was two putt for the victory.
Great plays are supposed to have heroes and villains. Good guys and bad guys. Sunday was golf theater at its very best, where it only produced heroes.
Angel Cabrera started caddying and earning money to help his family at the age of 10. He comes from an impoverished family background, but now that he is a national treasure in his homeland, he has never forgotten his humble roots. He works tirelessly on behalf of children and humanitarian causes and, like Perry, is beloved by his peers.
Championship golf demands that there is a victor and a runner-up, and so there was.
One of life’s saying is that “nice guys finish last.”
Today, nice guys finished first and second.