Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

The Loop

Sirak: Cabrera's title defense goes up in smoke

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Maybe Angel Cabrera should go back to smoking. The burly Argentine who puffed his way to victory in last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) CC swore off nicotine a couple months ago and has seen his game go up in smoke. Witness the fat 79 he posted in Thursday's first round at Torrey Pines in this year's national championship. And he needed a birdie, birdie finish to do that.

Cabrera hasn't done much of anything since his victory parade through the streets of Buenos Aires last June. His best 2008 finish on the European Tour is 12th at the HSBC Champions, while T-25 in the Masters is the best he could manage on this continent. Three times this year he has shot in the 80s, while going into the 60s only once.

Cabrera's defense of his U.S. Open title was over almost before it started as he bogeyed the first three holes and made par on only one of the first eight, turning the front nine in 43. With virtually no chance to make the cut, Cabrera will be going home early for the fifth time in his last seven PGA Tour starts.

"I'm feeling much better now that I don't smoke," Cabrera said early in the week at Torrey Pines. "But my life goes on whether I smoke or not, so I don't really care much about it. Everything is still the same, just without the smoking."

Certainly, those are the words Cabrera needs to say, and those are the ideas he needs to believe. In the long run, not smoking is an extremely wise move. In the short run, it appears to be a bumpy lifestyle transition.

Meanwhile Andres Romero, the 27-year-old hot-shot who finished T-8 in the Masters this year and won the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, might make his countrymen forget Cabrera. Romero posted a 71 and was three strokes off the lead shared by Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks.

Not bad for a guy playing in his first U.S. Open. It's not, however, Romero's first flirtation with a greatness in a major championship. He closed with a 67 last year at Carnoustie to finish third in the British Open.

Cabrera returned to Argentina a national hero last year, bringing with him the U.S. Open trophy. That's not going to happen this year. If there is going to be another parade through Buenos Aires it will have to be Romero riding in the back seat of the limo.

For Cabrera, it looks like this U.S. Open will be not-even-close and certainly no cigar.

--Ron Sirak