At the end, the bulbous granddad and the willowy Adonis played almost as if one. They advanced on the 2013 Masters title so splendidly in sync that they could have been choreographing a dance, or at least gambling with nearly identical hands. Together, they gave the tournament a finish it desperately needed.
Golf's culture war -- between young and old, stiff and loose, closed-off and "the hotline is open now" -- overtook Augusta National this weekend. At one point, the defending champion, Bubba Watson, made an unfavorable comparison between his sport and the gauche enterprises of football and basketball. Several of his hosts immediately required smelling salts.
This Masters will always be remembered as the one where a whistleblower from the TV audience kneecapped Tiger Woods and the ancient traditions of golf collided with unprecedented force against the new audience the game has courted. But with their every move in the Sunday twilight, the granddad and the Adonis suggested that reconciliation could be not only possible, but breathtakingly cathartic.
Angel Cabrera, 43 going on antiquity, has a beer-league softball physique, a cigarette habit and a tendency to outdo himself in major championships. He has won two majors, zero other PGA tournaments and three other events on the European tour.
Adam Scott, 32, sends galleries into swoons with the beauty of his face and surpassing pulchritude of his swing. Until Sunday, the former No. 3 had established himself as an underperformer in majors, most notably in his bogey blizzard at the end of last year's British Open.
Two putts, a brilliant 25-footer on 18 in regulation and then a stellar 12-footer on the second hole of the playoff gave Scott the green jacket. The Aussie embraced his elder and seemed to want to hold on forever. After they split apart for a minute, Scott reconnected with Cabrera and started walking off the course with an arm around his shoulder, more interested in connecting with him than waving to the crowd or getting ready for interviews.
The two had bonded at the Presidents Cup, and now they had shared an extraordinary duel on what every golfer considers hallowed ground. Scott thought he had won after his first magnificent putt, and then Cabrera, with bull strength informing artistry, spun out a spectacular approach shot that kept him in the hunt.
Typically, the energy and confidence of such moments wanes for at least one golfer before the playoff begins. Not this time. There was no fading, no choking, just excellent golf until Cabrera left his final putt on the lip of the hole. Scott, deserted by his short game most of the round, sank his.
The outward difference between the two was vast. On their last strokes at Augusta National, they were separated by a hair's width. An attempt to divide them by generation in the news conferences failed. Cabrera refused to take on Scott's modern choice of putter, which anchors against his chest and unglues traditionalists.
"No, I don't think there is any advantage," said Cabrera, who used a long putter while winning the '09 Masters but did not anchor it against his body. "If it really is an advantage, why don't everybody play it? So, you know, I'm just happy for him."
The long putters face extinction if proposed bans go forward in professional golf. But Scott's win meant that each of the four majors has now produced a champ who preferred his putter pressing against belly or sternum. In fact, only two of the last six majors have gone to players with old-school putters.
Can the game really turn back now? The purists may hate the way they look and believe that they remove some of the challenge of putting, but more and more of the old guard has belly-upped of late. Among the four long-putter majors champs is Ernie Els, who won the British at 42 last summer.
Likewise, the doomsday scenario of signing an incorrect scorecard will have to yield to the forward march of technology. It already has, via Rule 33-7, which allowed Woods to keep playing after his improper drop went undetected until after he had signed his second-round scorecard. Traditionalists have to adapt to the change and understand the effect of high-def TVs and endless replay capacity on the game.
Errors have become easier to spot from home entertainment centers, and many viewers know how to relay their observations to the proper authorities. (At Augusta National, you call the switchboard and ask to be transferred to the rules committee. 51 weeks a year, this is one of the most exclusive places on Earth; the second week in April, you can carry influence there as easily as you order a pizza.)
Expecting officials to shut down snitch hotlines makes no sense in the era of social media. Sofa-bound whistleblowers can simply post incriminating evidence and undermine the results of any tournament.
Watson and his peers have every reason to hate this system, but he can't compare the imposition of penalties in golf to football or basketball fouls. Those sports have officials ruling on every move an athlete makes, and an audience member calling in an error ex post facto doesn't create a remedy. A football game can't be reset to five minutes earlier, when Team X fumbled and Team Y recovered. But adding 2 strokes to Woods' score did not change the way anyone else would have played a single shot. It just changed the math in an event that would continue two more days.
Woods accepted his fate, conceding everything, although Yahoo! Sports posted pictures from the Augusta Chronicle that suggested he may have made a false confession on the improper drop. This is the downside of allowing scorecards to be revisited. The door never really closes on a round. Is the answer to place baseball-style umpires with every player and declare their daily rulings final? Do they get to use replays to check their calls? And if so, how will slow play penalties be assessed? The pursuit of perfection comes at a price. How much can the game afford?
That will all have to be negotiated, with respect for the new and the ancient. If the sport can accommodate and elevate two such disparate characters and physiques as the last ones off Augusta National on Sunday, surely anything is possible.
Just as Cabrera showed no disdain for the new, Scott eagerly looked to the past when he accepted the first green jacket ever awarded to an Australian. He paid homage to compatriot Greg Norman, a giant in the game whose 1996 collapse at Augusta still defines the sport's capacity to take one on excruciating detours.
"Part of this definitely belongs to him," Scott said.
Cabrera had nodded repeatedly when asked if he was happy for Scott. The interviewer was speaking English, and Cabrera requires a Spanish-speaking translator. But he heard enough to understand and answer without speaking. Some gaps are that easy to bridge.