PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Pablo Larrazabal at the BMW PGA Championship and Brendon Todd at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial played well enough to move into the top 60 in the world ranking this week and avoided having to qualify for the U.S. Open. That could go a long way. The first step toward winning the U.S. Open is securing a tee time.
Angel Cabrera is a good example of that.
The Argentine described the first of his two majors as a "bit of a shock" when he won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
"Because when I arrived at the U.S. Open, I wasn't playing great," he said. "My game was a little bit ... I wasn't playing really pure at the time."
Larrazabal and Todd are different in that respect. Todd is coming off his first win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Larrazabal won earlier this year in Abu Dhabi.
Seven years ago, only the top 50 were exempt from qualifying. In the final event before the cutoff, Cabrera was outside the top 50 when he closed with a 70 at the BMW PGA Championship and tied for fifth to sneak into the top 50. A month later, he was the toast of Pittsburgh as the first South American to win the U.S. Open.
A long shot? He sure looked like one to Graeme McDowell.
McDowell recalled playing a nine-hole practice round with Cabrera on the eve of that U.S. Open. He never would have guessed the Argentine would be posing with the trophy at the end of the week.
"I'm out there doing my thing, looking at lines, chipping, grinding, signing autographs," McDowell said. "Angel stepped up on every tee, flushed it down the middle, hit onto the green, whiffed at a putt near the hole and scooped it up. Every time I got to the tee, he'd be waiting for me for 15 minutes. He chain-smoked three cigarettes and was just looking at me. He just seemed miserable.
"I said, `That's OK. This guy doesn't want to be here.'"
That Cabrera would go on to win by one shot over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk is still amazing to McDowell when he looks back on that practice round.
"I'm grinding away. I thought, `This place is brutal.' And he literally did not chip or putt," McDowell said. "All he did was chain smoke at the back of the tee box waiting on me."