A heavenly finish for Angel at Oakmont…

June 18, 2007 | Drew Forrester

Where to start?

Angel Cabrera is the U.S. Open Champion?  Are you serious?

Well, let’s examine how it all happened.

For starters, putting woes killed Aaron Baddeley and Steve Stricker, both of whom were in the hunt throughout their respective front nines until a balky putter curtailed their chances.  I blogged earlier Sunday about Baddeley’s new “Stack and Tilt” swing and wondered if it would hold up to the pressures of Sunday at Oakmont.  Well, his swing looked pretty solid most of the day.  But his putter?  It didn’t hold up at all.  A 3-putt from 12-feet on the first hole led to a triple bogey and missed short birdie putts on #4 and #5 set him back.  Had “Badds” made those two birdie putts to get back in front, it might have been a different story.  Putting is all about confidence and the right stroke – he had neither on the greens today.  Same for Stricker…once his putter went south, so did he.

Jim Furyk staged a late rally that included some great shots at #13 and #15, but his decision to hit driver at #17 made no sense at all.  For starters, didn’t Furyk, Woods, etc. keep in mind that the guy in the lead – Cabrera – was more known for his late-round collapses than late-round miracles?  To wit, Angel bogeyed #16 and #17 and looked like he was going to hand the trophy to someone else until he made a routine par at #18.  Still, why would Furyk, with NO chance of reaching the putting surface at the 305-yard uphill par-4 17th, use a driver there?  Bad move.  A bogey there and a poor 2nd from the middle of the fairway at #18 left him a shot shy for the second straight year.

As for Woods, he most certainly remains the most courageous player of today’s lot.  Those par-saving putts at 15, 16 and 17 were truly “bravery on command” – he looked like he might have simply willed the 6-footer in the hole at #17.  But even Tiger would have to admit that today was not his best ball striking day.  Not by a longshot, in fact.  The poor approach at #3 led to a double bogey and after bombing a 320-yard drive at #9, he barely got the ball on the green from 170 yards out.  Then, it all came undone at #11, where he missed the green from 119 yards away and made bogey.  Cabrera birdied the 379 yard 11th…Woods bogeyed it.  That’s the difference in the golf tournament.  Tiger finished the weekend only making one birdie in his final 32 holes.  The record will show Cabrera won the U.S. Open, but Woods and the more astute golf followers will remember this one as the Open Tiger let out of his grasp with some “un-Tiger-like” play on Saturday and Sunday.

Woods’ decision to try and drive #17 was puzzling to me.  Why not just whack a 6-iron up the hill, leave yourself 80 yards and try and zip a 60-degree wedge in there right of the hole and let it trickle down to the pin?  He had to be thinking, “just get to a playoff with Cabrera and you’re a winner on Monday”, right?  Trying to drive it on the green at #17, something he hadn’t done all week, just seemed like a desperate play to me and there were more rational ways to make “3” there.

But you have to give Tiger credit for the finish.  He made the par-saving putt at #17, then drilled a 330 yard drive at #18 to set-up an approach shot that was right on line…but 25-feet too long.

As for Cabrera, he’s such an unlikely winner that I have to really think about what this means for him and the tournament itself.  This is, all likelihood, his shining moment.  I can’t imagine he’ll win another major, yet he’s been in contention before at the British Open and it wouldn’t surprise me if he hung around at Carnoustie in a few weeks at this year’s “Open Championship” (as the stuffy Brits like to call it).  I would think the USGA likes having winners like Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy.  It validates their event as the nation’s most “up for grabs” national title and it also shows that the golf course is, and always will be, the great equalizer.

Forget the modern day equipment – it’s the golf course that regulates scoring and, occasionally, determines who wins and loses.