By John Strege
El Pato, it seems safe to say, has one webbed foot in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The rest is just a formality.
Angel Cabrera of Argentina, the Duck who flies north for the winter, won again in the northern hemisphere, strengthening his case for eventual enshrinement.
(Getty Images photo)
He shot a weekend pair of 64s to finish off the Greenbrier Classic and win by two strokes over sentimental favorite George McNeill, who closed with a 61 with his mind elsewhere. McNeill’s sister Michelle is gravely ill.
“You go out and golf doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” McNeill said, tears in his eyes. “It’s hard. I played good today. Golf doesn’t mean a whole lot sometimes.”
For reasons far less serious, Cabrera’s golf probably won’t mean much, either, at least at home, at this moment in time, where the citizenry is otherwise preoccupied. The national sport of a country over which Lionel Messi reigns is — do we really need to say it? — not golf. It’s pato. The duck game. You were thinking soccer?
Pato is a polo/basketball hybrid of sorts and is not particularly popular in Argentina. Neither is El Pato, at least while the World Cup is going on, with the homeland team having reached the semifinals.
Still, it was an important victory, another reminder how good Cabrera is and why the Hall of Fame beckons. With two major victories (the U.S. Open in 2007 and the Masters in 2009), he already has met the requirement for consideration for induction. But John Daly has two majors, too, and no one (hopefully) considers him a Hall of Famer.
But consider this: Cabrera, 44, has added a third victory on the PGA Tour to go with three on the European Tour, one on the Asian Tour, one on the PGA Tour Latinamerica, while playing much of his golf on the Argentina Tour, where he has won 28 times.
His biography generally does not mention this, but he is a former chain smoker, is built like a recreational bowler, learned the game as a caddie, plays fearlessly and kills the ball. How can you not root for him?
“Angel Cabrera has an old-school golf swing,” CBS’ swing analyst Peter Kostis said. “Sometimes when you learn to swing in the caddie yard it stays with you a lot longer than otherwise.”
He held a one-stroke lead when he pounded a drive 329 yards over water, to the left side of the fairway at 16 and 336 yards to the fairway with water guarding the right side at 17 to close it out.
Cabrera, of course, would lose a popularity contest to Messi, but El Pato would win one with pato. The latter might be the national sport, but the former is a national treasure, who deserves international support for what looks increasingly like a Hall of Fame career.