by John Furgele
Does anybody remember Len Mattiace? In 2003, he had a chance to capture The Masters and get fitted for the coveted Green Jacket. Instead, he faltered and lost in a playoff to Mike Weir. Has anybody seen or heard from Mattiace since? And, even the winner, Weir, has sort of fallen from the mainstream of what is golf society. But, Weir won, Mattiace didn’t and in a sport where players are judged by majors, that’s a canyon like gap.
That’s why you have to feel a bit bad for Kenny Perry. For 70 holes he did everything right. He shot all four rounds under par and on Sunday, looked like he was going to to post a 4 under 68 and get measured for the cherished blazer that is green, like that of an Augusta National fairway.
Instead, he went bogey-bogey over the final two holes to find himself in a three way playoff with Chad Campbell and Angel Cabrera. Despite the poor finish, he still had a chance for redemption, but most of the time, the person that loses the lead late doesn’t win the playoff. Everybody remembers Jan Van de Velde’s famous meltdown at the 1999 British Open, where he tripled bogyed 18 (a double bogey would have been good enough to win) and lost to Paul Lawrie in the four hole playoff. Perry lost his chance to win a major at the 1996 PGA Championship, and he was hopeful that history wouldn’t repeat itself on Sunday.
Most of the time, the playoff is not kind to the late leader, and I was likely not alone when I thought Perry wouldn’t win once the playoff began. Now, it hasn’t always gone that way. At the 2001 United States Open, Retief Goosen three putted 18 from 12 feet, then had to face Mark Brooks in a playoff—which he won. There was a slight difference in the fact that the 18 hole playoff was played the next day, giving Goosen a chance to compose himself. He beat Brooks by two shots to win the title, then went on to win another U.S. Open title in 2004, so for Goosen, it served as a perverbial springboard.
Perry didn’t have the time to recover. He had to sign his scorecard, then get back out to 18 to face Cabrera and Campbell. As the three teed off, there were different pressures. Cabrera, the husky Argentinian had already won a major title in 2007, and now had the chance to cement his already growing legacy with another. Winning one major is tough, but there are many golfers—good and not so good—that have won one. But adding the second serves as a divider. One might call the first one a fluke, but after the second, the “f” word can no longer be used.
Like Perry, Campbell had been close, finishing second at the 2003 PGA Championship. Sometimes, the opportunity to win a major happens only once, maybe twice. Cabrera had a chance to win a major in 2007, and he did so. Perry and Campbell did not, but now they had a chance, a repreive, the opportunity to go down in history.
Campbell’s par putt rimmed out on 18 and after one hole, he was gone. Cabrera, after using a tree to salvage the hole, made a tough 10 footer to save par and marched off to 10 with another chance.
This time, Cabrera stayed straight, Perry lied four and all the Argentinian had to do was two putt from 12 feet, which he did to seize or perhaps steal the Masters title from a shellshocked Perry.
As Cabrera tapped in for victory, I felt good for him. He caught the world by surprise with his 2007 U.S. Open win, but now he has the validation that comes with a second major.
As good as one could feel for Cabrera, you had to feel equally bad for Perry, who at 48 is likely running out of chances to win a major title. Rocco Mediate came close at last year’s U.S. Open, but probably saw his best chance come and go. You hope that Perry will get another chance, and will come through.
But, it isn’t likely.