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The randomness of sports: Masters 2009

Posted by ZA on April 13, 2009

I spent Masters Sunday splitting time between entertaining my 8-month old daughter and watching the final round of The Masters.  The final round was an enjoyable one, although I felt the CBS duo of Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo overplayed the greatness of it a bit.  Maybe it was because I was only casually watching since I was babysitting my little girl, but this round wasn’t nearly as exciting as other rounds of golf that I’ve watched.  The best round of golf that I’ve seen was the Sunday round at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, when the USA overcame a huge deficit to win.

What was amazing to me about the Sunday round of the 2009 Masters was the randomness of the finish. Most of the day was devoted to the epic battle between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  The eventual playoff participants (Angel Cabrera, Chad Campbell & Kenny Perry) were relegated to a supporting role while Tiger & Phil were on the course.  Once it was obvious that Tiger & Phil were going to fall just short, the storyline turned to Perry.  Nantz waxed poetic about how Perry could become the oldest winner in the history of the Masters.  Then Perry bogeyed the final hole in regulation sending the 2009 Masters into a 3-way playoff.  It is then that the drama really unfolded…

On the first playoff hole Campbell and Perry drove their shots into the middle of the fairway, while Cabrera’s shot was blocked out in the trees to the right.  Naturally you assume that Cabrera’s goose is cooked; it appeared he didn’t even have a shot at the green.  And then it happened.  Then we witnessed one of the luckiest moments in the history of the Masters. Cabrera’s hail mary shot at the green hit a tree and ricocheted out into the 18th fairway.  When I heard the sound of his ball hitting a tree I all but buried Cabrera in my mind.  I had already pretty much written him off with the other two guys in perfect shape in the fairway, but now I was sure he was done.  Until the CBS camera located his shot in the middle of the fairway, then I thought to myself  that maybe El Pato has a chance.

Turns out that Angel Cabrera wasn’t dead; as he tapped in a putt a short time later to win the 2nd playoff hole and the 2009 Masters.  What an amazing turn events, Cabrera went from dead & buried to Masters champion.  I play golf and I’ve struck many trees during my day, so I know that you can catch lucky breaks.  I also know that luck plays a little part in most sports championships.  But what are the odds a guy is going to win the Masters shortly after knocking one off a Georgia Pine?

How random was it that Cabrera’s ball wound up in better position then if he would have just punched out to begin with?  It just goes to show that sports are random.  Cabrera was in terrible shape compared to his opponents, but with one random twist of fate he was still in it.  Yes, it required skill on Angel’s part to get up & down and not choke on the next playoff hole.  But if Cabrera hits that shot off the tree ten more times, I bet none of them turn out as good as his one shot did on Sunday.  It was a random occurrence that helped Angel Cabrera win the Masters.  In my opinion it is “the story” of Sunday at Augusta for the 2009 Masters.

Congrats to Angel “El Pato” Cabrera.  He is a great golfer, who is quite deserving of his Masters championship.  But he needs to go back to Augusta National today and kiss that tree that saved his round.  Like the Eisenhower Tree, we may soon see another tree at Augusta get named for the man who famously struck it.  I just have to figure out what sounds better: Angel’s Tree, Cabrera’s Tree or El Pato’s Pine?

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