High drama in the pines returned to the Masters Tournament on Sunday. Boy, did it ever.
In a final round that had more twists and turns than the past three Masters combined, Argentina's Angel Cabrera outlasted 48-year-old Kenny Perry, winning the 73rd Masters on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
It came after Kentucky's Perry bogeyed the final two holes of regulation and Cabrera parred them.
Texan Chad Campbell, 34, also tied for the lead after regulation, but bowed out with a bogey on the first playoff hole.
Speaking through a translator, Cabrera said the Masters victory is "something every player would want to have. It's the end of the world."
Cabrera, who is also the 2007 U.S. Open champion, closed with 1-under-par 71 to finish at 12-under 276, as did Perry (71) and Campbell (69).
It was the first playoff for the 39-year-old Cabrera, who lives in Cordoba, Argentina. He became the 15th player to win the Masters on Easter Sunday.
"When they put the green jacket on, I had goose bumps," Cabrera said. "I can't even explain what was going through my body."
Perry, a 13-time PGA Tour winner, is 3-3 in playoffs now, and Campbell, a four-time PGA Tour winner, has lost in both of his playoff appearances.
Had Cabrera shot a final round in the 60s, he would have been the first player in Masters history to do it in all four rounds. He opened with 68-68-69, and is the rare Masters champion not to finish in the top 10 in the three major statistical categories. He was 11th in driving (284.5 yards), tied for 12th in putting (113 putts) and tied for 14th in greens in regulation (50 of 72).
Japan's Shingo Katayama birdied the 18th hole to finish fourth at 278.
Phil Mickelson, who tied a Masters record with 6-under-par 30 on the front nine to pull within one shot of Perry, shot 37 on the back nine for 67 to finish fifth, three shots out of the playoff.
Tiger Woods, who played with Mickelson, bogeyed his final two holes for 68 and tied for sixth place with John Merrick (66), Steve Flesch (67) and Steve Stricker (71), four out of the playoff.
Cabrera becomes the first South American to win the Masters. It comes 41 years after fellow Argentine Roberto De Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard that cost him a chance to go to an 18-hole playoff with 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby.
"First, De Vicenzo had bad luck. He had a bad moment," Cabrera said. "It's not going to change what happened to him. This win, to take back to Argentina, it's going to help a lot with our game."
Cabrera started the day tied with Perry and led after three holes. Cabrera bogeyed Nos. 4 and 5 to fall one back, and trailed by three after Perry made birdie on No. 12. Cabrera then played his final six holes in 3-under.
"You have to hand it him," Perry said. "He was fighting just as hard as I was out there."
It was a heartbreaking loss for Perry, 48, who was hoping to eclipse 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion. He would also have passed 1968 PGA Championship winner Julius Boros as the oldest major championship winner.
"I played beautifully today until 17," Perry said. "I was in control; I hit great shots. I'm not going to hang my head in this deal. I fought hard out there. I was nervous, but I was proud of the way I hung in there.
"I may not ever get this opportunity again, but I had a lot of fun being in there. It was blast for me to get in there and fight with them. I just didn't get it done today. I had the tournament to win. I lost the tournament."
Perry said the shot he'd take back if he could would be the first putt on the par-5 13th, which he three-putted for par after a poor first putt. Had he made birdie there, he would have had a three-shot lead.
It was the first Masters playoff since 2005, and the longest since 1990, when Nick Faldo also won on the second hole, which was No. 11. In 2004, Augusta National changed the format to begin playoffs on the 18th and then alternate the hole with the 10th.
After Campbell was put aside after the first playoff hole, Cabrera and Perry then headed down No. 10, where Perry hit his approach left of the green.
"There was mud on the right side of my ball," Perry said. "I told my caddie, 'It's going left, I hope it doesn't go too far left.' "
It did. The shot ended up in the same area Len Mattiace visited when he lost a 2003 playoff on that hole to Mike Weir.
It was "advantage Cabrera" after he hit his approach on the front of the green.
"As we were walking down the fairway, he said, 'I think we've got a good chance to win now,' " said Cabrera's caddie, Ruben Yorio.
Perry chipped 15 feet past the hole, then knocked his par putt three feet past. He never putted again as Cabrera two-putted for the victory.
On the first playoff, at No. 18, Campbell hit first and found the right side of the fairway. Cabrera went in the right woods, finishing behind a tree. Perry then split the fairway, giving him the best angle to the green.
The pressure showed on the approaches. Cabrera hit a tree on the way out, but it bounded back into the fairway.
"I thought I had this much room," Cabrera said, spreading his hands about a foot apart. "It was bigger than the ball. You need luck sometimes in this game."
Said Yorio, his caddie: "It was good break; it was huge."
Perry came up short of the left greenside bunker, and Campbell found the bunker.
Cabrera took advantage of the break, knocking his third shot to within six feet of the hole and making par to stay alive in the playoff.
"He made a great up and down," Perry said. "He's in the trees, he hits it out and hits a beautiful sand wedge in there for a six-footer. "
Perry then chipped to within a foot of the hole and tapped in for par.
Next up was Campbell. He blasted out of the bunker to within four feet of the hole. Cabrera made his putt to tie Perry, but Campbell missed his.
"I guess I left the blade open; I just missed it," Campbell said.
Just as Mickelson and Woods ran out of steam at the end of their rounds, Perry followed suit. He had made only four bogeys in 70 holes before dropping shots on each of the last two.
Augusta National wanted to bring excitement back into the tournament's final round, and did so by moving up tees on 12 of the holes and making pins accessible. It also helped that the weather cooperated.
The setup and weather helped Mickelson strike for front-nine birdies on Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. He saved par from a bunker on No. 9 to tie the front nine course record with 6-under 30.
Walking down the 10th fairway, Mickelson trailed Perry by a shot and was tied for second place with Campbell and Cabrera. But his round turned when he dunked his tee shot into Rae's Creek on No. 12, leading to a double bogey.
"That was really a terrible swing, to miss it by so far from where I was aiming, after hitting so many great iron shots," Mickelson said.
Three holes later, Mickelson had a chance to tie for the lead, but missed his four-foot eagle putt on No. 15. He made birdie, leaving him one shot behind Perry, but didn't make another one.
"I didn't make any putts after I put it in the water," he said.