Of all the changes in Angel Cabrera’s life this year, the blessing of bouncing his first grandchild – five-month old granddaughter Agostina – on his knee may have been the most calming, mellowing effect on the sometimes gruff Argentinian.
But the biggest reason he heads into Sunday’s final round tied for the 54-hole lead with Brandt Snedeker?
His long-time coach, friend and trainer Charlie Epps took a big gamble after Cabrera missed the cut at the AT&T National last summer. He told Cabrera enough was enough. He wasn’t eating right. He wasn’t doing the things he had to do. He wasn’t doing anything to get himself out of it.
“I had to kinda lay down the law,” Epps said. “So I actually told him I wasn’t going to go to Scottish Open or the British Open. He needed to get refocused.
“You’ve got to let them go. Life’s hard. It wasn’t time for me say anything. I needed to give him time. We’ve seen this a lot out here. Lucas (Glover), Tiger (Woods). And 50 percent of this game is 100 percent mental.”
By the time the PGA rolled around, Cabrera had recommitted himself and their goal was to win the Argentine Open. Then Agostina was born. Then he won the Argentine Open and his own charity event, shooting a combined 32 under.
And now? Well, Cabrera is 18 holes away from winning a second Masters and a third major. And, in case you’re wondering, the 43-year-old, who won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont is one of four players to win an Open there and the Masters. The others? Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.
“He’s already in rarified air,” Epps said.
And he could be headed for more.
Cabrera birdied the 18th Saturday afternoon to grab a share of the lead at 7-under 209. It was the difference in playing in the final pairing or the next-to-last one.
“I think it's important obviously to make that birdie,” he said. “But for my confidence, it's good to be in the second or next-to-last group, but it's more the confidence of making that birdie.”
He admits when he won here in 2009, he was nervous.
“I was nervous, anxious,” he said. “But now I’m very comfortable. I know what I’ve got to do tomorrow to be to get the win.”
In addition to the re-commitment and Agostina, Cabrera separated from his wife Sylvia this spring and in the last few months, he’s begun to play better. He missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard -- teasingly blaming it on Epps who left on the seventh hole of the tournament and Cabrera tripled the next hole -- but he tied for 16th at the Shell Houston Open.
They rolled into Augusta Saturday and played a relaxed practice round Sunday that set the tone for the week. Epps called it “the greatest warm-up ever.”
Cabrera treats every tournament the same. Yes, the Masters is a major, but he still approaches it the same. And right now, his game is on automatic.
They worked a bit on his shoulders this week because he has a tendency to close them, but he didn’t have to do much else.
“He doesn’t have to hit a blot of balls because he’s puring it,” said Epps, who has coached him since 2005. “His practice is like infield practice for baseball guys, he’s striking it so good.”
“He told me on Monday,” Epps grinned, “the Machine is ready.”
For years now, they’ve rented a house and cooked every night. Angel usually cooks, Epps cleans up. This year, Cabrera’s youngest son Angelito, who is caddying for him, is in the house along with a friend who owns a restaurant.
Saturday night, Epps planned to cook tajarinas – a sort of spaghetti Bolognese, but with fettuccini noodles. It’s the way they relax and get ready for what could be another Green Jacket.
“Tomorrow it's more about execution and about patience,” Cabrera said. “I don't think it's a big advantage that I've won before. It's more about patience.”
This, after all, is a man who failed on his first four tries at European Tour Qualifying School, then made it on the fifth. He came to the U.S. and didn’t like it at first, but persevered.
And now, after two majors . . . well, Epps said granddad isn’t finished yet.
“When you go through what he has gone through and has the talent he has – he’s won 40 tournaments worldwide and two majors ...” Epps said. “He’s very special.”