Beware, Holland. El Pato is loose.
You'd think a 64-64 weekend at the Greenbrier by 44-year-old Argentine Angel Cabrera en route to nailing down his first PGA Tour win since the 2009 Masters has little to do with the mighty "Albiceleste," the Argentinian national soccer team facing the Netherlands in a World Cup semifinal on Wednesday. But you'd be wrong.
That's the power of Angel (El Pato) Cabrera. He exudes so much likability and so much talent – when he's up for it, mind you – that his monster weekend in West Virginia surely will ripple down to Brazil to the boys in blue-and-white.
Be honest. Who would you rather see ply his athletic craft? The dashing, darting, miraculous artist known as Lionel Messi, the four-time World Footballer of the Year? Or a slightly overweight smoker who walks around a golf course like a duck?
Yes. I'm with you. Give me El Pato any day.
The tales of Cabrera's exploits at Sam Snead's old hangout will inspire Messi. Cabrera is such a money player that in 218 PGA Tour starts, he bothers to give the world glimpses of his talent only when it matters most. For example:
• At the 2007 Oakmont U.S. Open, starting four strokes back of Aaron Baddeley on Sunday, Cabrera was the only player in the top 10 to break 70 at sadistic Oakmont, and that included pre-Escalade-into-a-hydrant Tiger. While Tiger shot 72 and missed out on a playoff by one stroke, Cabrera left a trail of cigarette smoke in the field's face with a final-round 69 and his first major.
• At the 2009 Masters, he won a playoff over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell, but not before his tee shot on the 18th hole, the first playoff hole, ricocheted off a tree and bounced fortuitously. Unbothered, as always, Cabrera stuck his third from 114 yards to six feet and made an all-galaxy up-and-down to force another playoff hole, where he won with a par. This ensured that not only is Cabrera cool under pressure, but also that Masters champions would eat well in the spring of 2010, as Cabrera dialed up a vast array of Argentinian beef for the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Mike Weir and Jack Nicklaus to wolf down.
• At the 2013 Masters, Cabrera didn't win, but he forced Adam Scott to earn every stitch of his first green jacket. First, Scott birdied the 72nd and thought he'd done enough to win. He went nuts. Until Cabrera, right behind him in the pouring rain, stuffed a 7-iron to two feet in one of the stoniest shots you've ever seen. His birdie forced a playoff, and Cabrera nearly won his second green jacket when his birdie chip lipped out on the first playoff hole. Scott had to be stunned that a man 10 years older than him, with significantly higher body fat percentage, significantly less lung capacity and far fewer female oglers was stretching him to the limit. Plus, Cabrera doubled down on his coolness by openly applauding Scott's excellent second on the second playoff hole, giving him a wink-and-a-thumbs up as they approached the 10th green. Somewhere, Miguel Angel Jimenez had to be worried about Cabrera thieving his "Most Interesting Golfer in the World" mantel. Either that, or the two of them are so cool they'll share the title.
And now, Greenbrier. It had been 103 starts since Cabrera last won, and he moves in such mysterious ways, you never knew when he'd strike again. In fact, he'd missed nine cuts in 16 starts this year, batting over .500 in the MC category. That wasn't unusual, either. Cabrera missed nine cuts of 20 in 2012; and nine cuts of 17 in 2011. You wonder what it would take to fire him up again.
All it took, in all likelihood, was Argentina's run to the World Cup semifinals. I have no empirical proof of this, only that Cabrera wore light blue on Saturday to support the Albiceleste, and his remarks to reporters that he was delighted with their win over Belgium. But something clicked to create the magic. By making birdie on 11, birdie on 12 and then holing out a crazy great 8-iron uphill from 175 for eagle on No. 13, Cabrera would pull away from George McNeill – another amazing story and the author of a 61 – for a two-shot win. When it's clicking, he's among the best on the planet.
In other words, if it walks like a duck, and plays golf like a duck … it's El Pato's world. Holland is warned, and so is the British Open field at Hoylake next week.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
70-67-68-61 – 14-under 266, George McNeill, runner-up, PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic, The Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, WV.
Sometimes stories come along that tell themselves, and all we can do as golf fans and golf writers is observe, and be amazed, and be touched.
George McNeill is a 38-year-old player who has two wins on the PGA Tour, the 2012 Puerto Rico Open and the 2007 Frys.com Open. He is 29th in the FedExCup points race. He went to Florida State. He likes to fish in the Florida keys.
Sunday, George McNeill went from just a player on the PGA Tour to a player whose Sunday affected every fan. Something special was happening with McNeill. He was playing spectacular golf. He birdied No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and then he aced No. 8, a 219-yard par-3 with a 4-iron. He went out in a sizzling 28.
He birdied No. 10, and Nos. 17 and 18. He shot 61, tying his career-low. Fans adored his Sunday run. In the CBS booth, Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo appreciated the beauty. McNeill held the clubhouse lead, until Cabrera's 64 clipped him.
And then after the round, we all learned how devastating McNeill's day was. He only alluded to CBS in an emotional post-round interview about how golf "doesn't mean a whole lot" and how he had "some things" going on and that his "mind was elsewhere." And then reporters on the scene confirmed: McNeill played the round with the knowledge that his sister, Michele, was terminally ill with breast cancer and not going to live many more hours.
He learned after his round she died.
Seth Soffian of the Fort Myers News-Press reached McNeill's mother, Dottie, who said she spoke to George just before his round and told him hospice was tending to Michele: "Georgie, she is going, and she'll go today."
Dottie McNeill said she believed the spirit of her daughter helped guide her son to the best final round of his life.
"We just think she went ahead and went to West Virginia and was there with him," Dottie McNeill told Soffian. "It was obvious with his golf. We can dream, can't we?"
McNeill withdrew from this week's John Deere Classic. His finish at Greenbrier earned him a spot at next week's British Open. Whether he plays is unknown. The Open's official Twitter account wrote simply: "George McNeill has earned a place at The Open. Well done George. Our thoughts are with you tonight."
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"He honestly just doesn't care … and that is rare out here." – Gary McCord, CBS, on Angel Cabrera.
It's hard to explain this, but I think McCord meant his comment as a compliment.
In sports, the ultimate compliment is to burn with a Jordan-esque desire, to demand wins at a Tiger-esque clip, to take no prisoners with a Kobe-like glare.
And then there's Cabrera, going Alfred E. Neuman on us. What, The Duck, worry?
This is something to behold in the modern era, a player who isn't living by some Madison Avenue cliché insisting we all smolder with a 24/7/365 vigilance, that WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE, or that IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING, or, ultimately, the accept-no-excuses insistence that we must JUST DO IT.
Then there's Cabrera, who if he launched his own Madison Avenue inspiration campaign might be: RELAX, TAKE A LOAD OFF, or WATCH ME HIT THIS CLOSE, THEN SMOKE A CIG.
Takes all sorts to make this world go 'round, sports fans.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
There isn't any one particular shot we will ask to re-do, but maybe a couple, instead. How about if we turn George McNeill's epic 61 into an historic 59, by giving him two more birdies on that back nine, especially at the par-5 12th, and then again at the par-4 11th. I know it's asking a lot, but just for the sake of giving the day one last wish … give that man a couple of mulligans!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The getting is good now. The British Open awaits next week, so the European Tour's Scottish Open is our juicy undercard. It's where Phil Mickelson laid the groundwork for his unforgettable Claret Jug in the summer of 2013, and it's where all the big boys have gathered before Hoylake: Phil, Rory, Ernie, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler. Heck, I'll even throw you a Jimmy Walker, who has played great in the first two majors of the year.
Stateside, the John Deere is the place that gave Jordan Spieth his ticket to the U.K. last summer, so that bears watching, too. It's July, golf fans. That's a good thing.