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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Angel Cabrera

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

In my mind, Angel Cabrera almost automatically put himself into contention for Sportsman of the Year by posting a score of five-over par at onerous Oakmont, thus capturing the 107th U.S. Open. But he is deserving for another reason: No matter how close this bull of a ballstriker from Argentina gets to the corporate tents at the courses he plays so brilliantly around the globe, he never forgets the caddy yard that nurtured him back in his native Cordoba.

To be sure, his Open victory was captivating in itself. Waddling around the venerable venue, Cabrera -- whose nickname back home is El Pato (the duck) -- put on a show that wowed the assemblage with howitzers off the tee and precision-bombing approaches. The coup de grace came at No. 15 during the final round when he stuck a nine-iron from 169 yards to within 18 inches of the cup. That shot essentially allowed Cabrera to hold off his two closest pursuers: a couple of hackers named Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk.

All the while, Cabrera wore his heart and nerves on his sleeve. He puffed furiously on his omnipresent cigarette. "There are players that have psychologists, sportologists. I smoke," he told reporters. And he exulted openly. With a physique that resembles JamesGandolfini's Tony Soprano, Cabrera stamped himself not only as some golfer, but also as quite a hoot, a bracing exception in this era of the blank-faced, logo-laden linkster.

But it wasn't until a few weeks later, when I helped edit a fascinating story about Cabrera for SI's Golf Plus section, that I truly appreciated the journey that had taken him to Oakmont's trophy ceremony. Venturing to Cordoba, my colleagues Alan Shipnuck and Luis Fernando Llosa recounted how Cabrera grew up literally dirt poor and abandoned by his parents. Dropping out of school, he became a caddy at Cordoba Country Club, where in Monday matches with his fellow loopers he began to hone the slashing, furious style that now has taken him to 14th in the world ranking.

Today, as a full-fledged member at the club, Cabrera is donating funds to construct a new caddy shack. It's one of his many charitable endeavors in and around the region.

Best of all, though he is now rich and famous beyond his boyhood dreams, every Friday night that he is in town, Cabrera repairs to Almacen y Bar Condor, which Alan and Luis describe as "a local dive where Cabrera gathers with two dozen of the men he calls his companeros." There he indulges in a ritual chow-down, boozefest and insult session. The man finished the year with three straight victories and earned more than $3 million worldwide for the '07 season, which would allow him to dine nightly on filet mignon at four-star establishments, should he desire. But no. Give Cabrera the asados at the Condor. This is one Sportsman who will never lose his primal hunger.

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