This Masters, however, went beyond winners and losers to the nature of competition at its best. There are other examples, like Norman’s own generosity in defeats here and elsewhere. But none better than the final hour of competition here in which both men made spectacular birdies at the 72nd hole — first Scott with a 22-foot putt, then Cabrera with a “Duck in the rain” 7-iron to 21
2 feet to force a playoff.
All factors considered — facing defeat, the skies ripped open as if Scott’s putt had split them — I’ve never seen as amazing a shot from the fairway on the 72nd hole of a major tournament as Cabrera’s, certainly not in the Masters or the U.S. Open in the last 40 years.
Once in their playoff, both continued to surpass themselves and ennoble each other, even though such demands seemed outrageous since Scott had birdied the 15th hole and Cabrera the 16th as they barreled toward the finish.
On the first playoff hole, a replay of the 18th, both had chip shots from the front of the green, a difficult combination of touch and art under the easiest conditions. Cabrera almost holed out, the ball peeking into the right side of the hole. Victory escaped him by a fraction of an inch.
Scott chipped to two feet for his matching par and on they went to the 10th hole, where both crushed enormous, perfect tee shots, far past 325 yards, the 43-year-old Cabrera matching the distance of Scott’s renowned driver even though he used an iron.
Perhaps that 10th fairway, almost as much as the final drama on the green, captured this Masters. Cabrera, who plays quickly, fluidly and powerfully, walked up and pounded his iron shot 15 feet below the hole. Scott topped him, putting his approach 12 feet from the hole. Cabrera immediately turned to him, gave him a thumbs-up from across the fairway.
Cabrera had his birdie putt worm its way an inch above the hole, a smooth stroke but the narrowest of misses. Scott kicked the door down.
But with help. In the gloaming, Scott, who seldom asks for help in reading putts, asked his caddie Steve Williams if “You think it’s just more than a cup?” break. “It’s at least two cups,” said Tiger Woods’s former caddie.