Reuters - Tue, 06 Apr 22:09:00 2010
Angel Cabrera is a battle-hardened veteran of professional golf but the experience of returning to Augusta National for his Masters title defence this week has left the 40-year-old awestruck.
Twelve months ago, the Argentine won his second Major title in a nerve-jangling playoff with Americans Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry, earning him the right to a spot in Augusta's hallowed champions' locker room.
"It's very hard to describe walking in there to see all of the names on the lockers," Cabrera said.
"To look around and see (names such as Seve) Ballesteros, (Nick) Faldo and (Jack) Nicklaus, it's an amazing experience.
"It's an honour to be back here in a very special place where they always make us feel special," added the long-hitting Cabrera, who spoke through a Spanish interpreter.
Players arrive at Augusta National by driving through the fabled front gates on Washington Road before making their way toward the clubhouse along iconic Magnolia Lane.
"It was a great sensation," Cabrera recalled of his arrival earlier this week. "A feeling of great satisfaction going down it (Magnolia Lane) after leaving here last year with the jacket on."
Winners of the Masters are presented with the cherished Green Jacket, a very visible confirmation they have joined elite company.
Should Cabrera go on to triumph at Augusta National on Sunday, he would join another elite group of golfers as a three-times Major champion.
"It would be a great honour to be able to be on that list, especially now when I think it's going to be even harder for players to get on it," he said.
Among contemporary players, world number one Tiger Woods heads the standings with 14 Major titles. Next best, with three apiece, are Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington.
Woods, who makes his long-awaited return to competition this week after almost five months out while trying to repair his marriage, has won an average of one Major every year since turning professional in late 1996.
Speculation on how the world number one will fare on his Masters comeback has dominated the build-up to the year's first Major but Cabrera felt all the hype had been overblown.
"The Masters is the Masters," said the Argentine, who won his first Major title at the 2007 US Open.
"They can talk about anybody, they can talk about Tiger but the Masters is the Masters, and we have to give that importance to the Masters as the Masters."