Oakmont's Open produces a surprise winner


Possessing greatness is a necessity to win at Oakmont, so went the talk all week at the U.S. Open. The kind of over-the-top talent Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus displayed in winning championships there, that Johnny Miller owned for a day while shooting his record 63 in 1973.

So, with Tiger Woods ready to win the 13th major championship that would edge him closer to Nicklaus' record 18 majors, how could Angel Cabrera emerge from a tense final round Sunday as champion?

All together now: Who?

Cabrera is 12th in European Tour career earnings, but his visibility in America probably couldn't have been much lower. Despite six previous top 10 finishes in majors, he is almost never mentioned among the top contenders in big tournaments.

Now that he's stared down world-ranked No. — Woods and No. — Jim Furyk to bring a U.S. Open title home to Argentina for the first time &

smoking like a steel mill, much like Arnold Palmer once did &

that will change.

"The good thing is that I beat everybody here, not only Tiger Woods," Cabrera said Sunday, moments after putting both arms around the championship trophy and tucking it close.

Cabrera, 36, doesn't come from a country club background, growing up so poor he didn't finish elementary school. He began golfing only because his caddie's job allowed him to venture onto home-course Cordoba Golf Club. Back home, he is nicknamed El Pato &

the duck &

for the way he walks down the fairway.

"I had to work as a caddie to put food on the table," said Cabrera, whose best previous victory came in the 2005 BMW Championship, one of Europe's top events. "That's why, probably, these moments are enjoyed even more."

He smokes to deal with stress.

"Well, there are some players that have psychologists, sportologists," he said. "I smoke."

Curiously, Oakmont Country Club, home to the rich, wealthy and famous, put away most of the field with its toughness, enabling the once dirt-poor Cabrera to take care of the rest as he finished at 5-over 285 for the tournament. Big and burly, Cabrera fit in well in Pittsburgh, where star athletes such as the now-retired Jerome Bettis aren't always perfect physical specimens.

Still, if one would have said his last name before the U.S. Open, many local fans would have confused him with Francisco Cabrera, the Braves bench player whose ninth-inning pinch hit beat the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

No doubt it was a coincidence, but Angel Cabrera was the only contender who came out Sunday wearing yellow and black, his bright shirt almost exactly the shade of Steelers gold. Furyk spent part of his youth in western Pennsylvania and some fans chanted his name, yet it was Cabrera who dressed the role as the hometown favorite.

"He (Cabrera) had some great golf shots, and that's what you have to do," Woods said. "He went out there and put all the pressure on Jim and I, and we fell one short."

Woods was the runner-up in a major for the second time this year; he also was at the Masters. Furyk tied for second in the U.S. Open for the second year in a row, the first to do that since Palmer in 1966-67.

Cabrera, the only player with two below-par rounds at Oakmont, owned the second-round lead following a 1-under 69 on Thursday and a 71 on Friday. But his 6-over 76 Saturday left him four off the pace. That meant he went off four groups ahead of Woods and third-round leader Aaron Baddeley, who took a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole and never contended.

At one point, five were tied for the lead after Cabrera gave back a shot with a bogey at the ninth following birdies on the fourth and fifth. But he birdied the 10th to regain the lead and once led by three shots after another birdie on the 15th.

However, Cabrera gave Furyk and Woods a chance with consecutive bogeys at the 16th and 17th, each time missing par putts of around 10 feet.

"Yes, bogey on those holes made me nervous," he said. "But, well, I knew I had to hit a good drive to make par on the 18th and sit and wait."

He did that on what proved to be Oakmont's toughest hole Sunday, getting the par he needed to finish the way he started Thursday with a 1-under 69. Then, he went to the clubhouse and watched nervously as Furyk charged back into contention with three consecutive birdies starting on No. 13 and Woods played out his final four holes.

Furyk's failed gamble on the 17th may have cost him a Monday playoff. With the tee moved up to make the hole play at 306 yards, he took out his driver but couldn't reach the green, landing in the left front rough. His bogey 5 was the only glaring mistake of his second even-par 70 in as many days.

"Getting that close and not being able to win the golf tournament, yeah, it stings a little," said Furyk, who lost at Winged Foot last year by missing a short par putt on the 18th. "But I went down swinging."

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