Cabrera vaults into lead with big finish

Updated: June 16, 2007, 1:30 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

OAKMONT, Pa. -- If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be the U.S. Open midway leader.

Angel Cabrera, nicknamed "Pato" in his native Argentina, which translates as "The Duck," fired a second-round 1-over 71 at Oakmont Country Club on Friday to claim a one-stroke lead entering the weekend.

"I think I have a very good chance," he said through an interpreter. "I'm playing very well."

While Cabrera can credit much of his success to a steady diet of fairways and greens -- he hit nine of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens in regulation on Friday -- it was a single shot that propelled him into sole possession of the lead.

Angel Cabrera
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaCabrera has never missed the cut in eight U.S. Open appearances.
After launching a drive some 340 yards down the fairway on his final hole of the day, No. 9 on the course, Cabrera was left with a 135-yard approach shot into the large green. He chose sand wedge and took dead aim.

The ball rolled to within 2 feet of the cup, leaving Cabrera with a tap-in birdie on a hole that played one-half stroke over par during the day.

"That was my last big shot, so I was definitely concentrating, trying to make the best shot possible," said Cabrera, who is at even-par 140 for the tournament. "Making a birdie at the last hole gives you a good sensation for what is left ahead."

What is left ahead is hardly unknown territory for the 37-year-old from Cordoba. This is no Kenneth Ferrie or Jason Gore overachieving success story, in reference to the little-known players who became overnight sensations by climbing leaderboards in the last two U.S. Opens.

Cabrera is the world's 41st-ranked player. He owns 15 career international victories and six top-10 finishes in 30 major appearances. A victory at Oakmont, however, would be his first on U.S. soil.

And he knows that nothing has been accomplished so far.

"The tournament is starting [Saturday]," said Cabrera, who has never missed the cut in eight career U.S. Open starts. "It's great to finish this way, but we will have to keep concentrating for [Saturday] because that's when the tournament is going to start."

One byproduct of Cabrera's final-hole birdie is that it eliminated 19 players from the tournament, as those at 11-over-par fell one stroke short of the USGA's 10-shot rule, including Phil Mickelson.

Asked about it after the round, Cabrera provided perhaps the most salient remark regarding the ousting of the four-time U.S. Open runner-up.

"I did not knock out Mickelson," he said. "Mickelson knocked out himself."

Cabrera will have bigger and better things on his mind entering Round 3 at Oakmont, as he prepares to play in the final pairing at 3:15 p.m. along with fellow long-hitter Bubba Watson.

"I've never been after 36 holes on top of the leaderboard in a major," Cabrera said, "but we're trying to make the most of it and hopefully have a good weekend."

There's no reason to think he won't. Cabrera has proven to be a world-class player and just may be ready to take the stage as our newest first-time major champion.

After all, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck ...

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.