CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A tip of the hat and handshakes for Masters champion Angel Cabrera.
A pat on the back for Chad Campbell.
And for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, reflections of a green jacket that got away from them.
Except for Kenny Perry, the leading characters from the Masters return to competition this week at the Quail Hollow Championship, their first time seeing their peers and the press since that memorable Sunday afternoon earlier this month at Augusta National.
Only one of them had reason to celebrate.
Cabrera scrambled for par from the trees at No. 18 in a playoff, then won on the second extra hole to defeat Perry and Campbell and capture his second major. Four days later, he was feted at what amounts to a club championship at his home club in Argentina.
“It was incredible to go back to my country and to be with my people, just was really a special, special feeling,” Cabrera said through his Houston-based swing coach, Charlie Epps.
And it got even better when he arrived at Quail Hollow, the tree-lined course with a major championship atmosphere.
“It’s very nice that my fellow professionals have congratulated me the way that they have,” Cabrera said.
Woods still commanded all the attention Wednesday, partly because of his status as the No. 1 player and a 14-time major champion, and partly because of the company he kept. Woods played with Peyton Manning, the three-time MVP quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, and both sides of the fairway were lined with spectators as they finished the round.
Despite not taking advantage of some easy scoring conditions at Augusta National, and now going a career-long four years without winning another green jacket, the time off gave Woods some perspective on the state of his game.
He has played four times since his eight-month layoff due to reconstructive knee surgery. He won at Bay Hill, and he has finished in the top 10 in all of his stroke-play events.
“I’ve had people remind me to look at it that way,” he said with a smile. “I have a hard time looking at it that way. It’s just the nature of how I am. You want to try and win every event you play in, and obviously, I haven’t done that this year. But I’ve had some successes this year. Even the years that I’ve won nine times, eight times in a year, you still look at all the times you didn’t win.”
Imagine how Campbell feels.
He was in the middle of the 18th fairway in the playoff, a 7-iron in his hand, when he hung it out to the right and into a bunker and wound up missing a 5-foot par putt that knocked him out of the playoff.
Campbell enjoyed being away from golf for a few weeks, but it was almost too much time.
“The longer I had off, the more I started thinking about things I should have done or could have done,” he said. “It’s nice to be back out here playing, and maybe put that tournament behind me a little bit. It was a great experience. I had a blast. But I just wish it would have turned out a little bit better.”
Mickelson tied a Masters record with a 30 on the front nine, but his charge to a third green jacket stalled with a tee shot into Rae’s Creek and two missed birdie putts inside 5 feet. After a few weeks to reflect, he saw only positives.
“I’m looking forward to getting back and playing,” he said. “I had a fun time at Augusta, and I can’t wait to get back out. I’ve been working on my game and I’m excited about the rest of the year. We’ve got a big tournament every month.”
It starts with the Quail Hollow Championship, the tournament formerly known as the Wachovia Championship until the bank was acquired by Wells Fargo, and the new owner decided to take its name off the tournament under scrutiny over taking federal money.
The defending champion is Anthony Kim, although Woods could claim part-ownership. He won at Quail Hollow two years ago, then missed last year while recovering from the first of his two knee surgeries.
The course is in pristine shape, and it’s easy to see why club president Johnny Harris – who joined Woods and Manning – is courting a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup for Quail Hollow. The difference this year is the lack of rough, with the difficulty aimed for greens that are expected to be faster than ever.
“It’s not what we’ve seen here in years past,” past champion Jim Furyk said. “I think it’s a good enough golf course it doesn’t matter. This is one of those tournaments that probably has a bit more of a green light to kind of mess around with the setup and see what’s best and what’s not, because the players like the course so much and support this event so well.”
Woods, who is testing a new shaft in his driver, says he is starting to get some “pop” back in his swing. He might need that, especially after Mickelson was continually hitting it past him during their final-round pairing at the Masters.
He will play three times before the next major, the U.S. Open. And it wasn’t long after the Masters that he began gearing up for his title defense at Bethpage Black.
“Probably took me a couple of days,” he said. “Just wanted to go over what happened there and make sure I thought about what I did right and wrong, and analyze it and prepare, and start game-planning for the Open.”