Tiger can't overtake the Duck

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Woods had great opportunity to win U.S. Open, but wasn't able to knock scrappy Cabrera off top of leaderboard

The door was ajar, the seas parted, the gates opened wide. When has Tiger Woods ever turned down such a gilt-edged series of invitations to win a major golf championship?

Well, he has now. When Stephen Ames, Jim Furyk and a host of others fired and fell back - or in the case of third-round leader Aaron Baddeley, didn't fire at all - the only man left with a chance to catch Argentina's Angel Cabrera in the closing few holes of the U.S. Open was the greatest player of his generation.

Angel Cabrera of Argentina, winner of the 107th U.S. Open, jokes with second-place finisher Tiger Woods at the Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., Sunday. Photo by The Associated Press

The door was ajar, the seas parted, the gates opened wide. When has Tiger Woods ever turned down such a gilt-edged series of invitations to win a major golf championship?

Well, he has now. When Stephen Ames, Jim Furyk and a host of others fired and fell back - or in the case of third-round leader Aaron Baddeley, didn't fire at all - the only man left with a chance to catch Argentina's Angel Cabrera in the closing few holes of the U.S. Open was the greatest player of his generation.

But when Oakmont Country Club asked the question, Tiger did what most everyone else did Sunday: he got the answer wrong.

And Cabrera - the 37-year-old Argentine with the happiest-looking body language in golf - had just enough nerve and game to fight off bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes and stagger across the finish line with a one-stroke victory over Woods and Canadian Open champion Jim Furyk.

He was the only player in the top 20 to shoot an under-par round, 69, on the final day on a murderously tough golf course, so there's no taking it away from him. The big, long-hitting fellow they call "Pato" in his home country - that's Duck, in Spanish - won with a score of five-over-par 285, the same as last year's winning score at Winged Foot.

He started with nothing, and scraped his way off a dirt-floor upbringing, caddying and apprenticing and finally making it to the top of golf's world - becoming just the second player from Argentina to win a major, 40 years after Roberto Di Vicenzo won the British Open. So you couldn't help but feel happy for him Sunday evening.

"It's a great moment for me, I can't believe it," said Cabrera. "I don't know what they're doing (in Argentina), but I hope they're enjoying it."

He started the day four strokes off the lead and had it as low as three-over-par at one point, and no one else did, all day. But you kept waiting for Woods to seize The Big Moment, and it never happened.

"No, no, no," Cabrera said. "I beat everybody, not only him."

Woods at least kept giving himself chances, even if he couldn't make a birdie putt down the stretch.

Big mistake by Furyk

But Furyk wins this year's Phil Mickelson Award for bad decision-making.

The 2003 U.S. Open winner had made three straight birdies to stand on the 17th tee tied for the lead, after Cabrera missed a par putt on the green ahead of him. But instead of asking for a clarification of his position, what does one of golf's coolest customers and best wedge players and putters do, on a 306-yard hole where par four is good and birdie is possible if he hits something in play?

He hauls out his driver, hits it deep in the cabbage and makes bogey.

That left Woods with three holes to play and one birdie to make. But the greens were so fiery by the end, there was just no stopping the ball near the hole. His final chance was a 35-footer, downhill, with about eight feet of break at the 18th. He left it a foot away.

"I hit a lot of good golf shots that ended up 10 or 12 feet away with 2 1/2 or three feet of break in the putt," said Woods, whose 13th major will have to wait at least until next month's British Open at Carnoustie. "You have to be real defensive and just really hope the ball falls in.

"Finishing second is never fun. It's disappointing, when you play so hard, and I thought I only had to make one or two (birdies) coming in, and just couldn't do it."

The world turned on its ear within minutes of the leaders getting on the golf course Sunday.

For Aaron, things went Baddeley

Ames, starting three strokes out of the lead, made an unheard-of birdie at the first hole, and right behind him, Baddeley made an unholy mess of it, ending with a triple-bogey after two chips and three putts from six feet. He didn't know it at the time, but he was on his way to an inglorious 80.

All Woods did was par, and he and Ames were co-leaders. Woods then played the third like an 18-handicapper, hitting two terrible chips and finishing with a double-bogey, and Ames briefly led solo. But this was going to be one of those days when the lead was a hot potato, and no one could get a grip on it for long.

Steve Stricker had a piece of it, then fell off the face of the earth with a 42 on the back nine. Cabrera had it, lost it, got it back

But even as Cabrera's name was being etched on the trophy, anyone who watched the tournament - and certainly everyone who played it - knew it was Oakmont that won the 2007 U.S. Open. It absolutely killed most of the best players in the world, and sent a lot of them packing on Friday.

Cabrera, who has won three times on the European Tour and plenty in South America, but never against the big boys in the U.S., picked a good place to break through.

He was sitting by a TV monitor, puffing away furiously on a cigarette, as Woods played the last couple of holes.

"I was ready to start thinking about the playoff (today)," he said. On the 18th green, before the presentation ceremony, he could be seen laughing and joking with Woods and Furyk.

"I told Tiger he will be a local at the Torrey Pines (next year's Open in San Diego)," Cabrera said, "so he should win there."

Chances are, that thought won't keep Tiger warm at night, in the meantime.

Vancouver Sun

Organizations: U.S. Open, Oakmont Country Club, European Tour

Geographic location: Argentina, Carnoustie, South America U.S. San Diego Vancouver

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