By BILL CORMIER
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – No longer just a soccer power, the championship playing field is getting more crowded all the time in Argentina.
First it was Manu Ginobili and his third NBA crown splashed across the front pages. Now it’s golfer Angel Cabrera winning the U.S. Open.
Cabrera’s one-stroke victory over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk on Sunday drew endless praise around Argentina as radio commentators and television reveled in the first Latin American to win the U.S. Open.
“An historic day for Argentine golf’’ blared the front-page headline in South America’s biggest-circulation daily, Clarin.
Another Argentine daily, La Nacion, declared, “Cabrera: another Argentine for the history books of golf.’’
And on Monday, video of Cabrera’s weekend triumph was replayed constantly, showing Cabrera grinning and grabbing his trophy as Woods stood in the background on the fairways at Oakmont Country Club.
The coverage pushed aside the conclusion of the Argentine soccer season Sunday, and the upcoming second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between Buenos Aires club Boca Juniors and Brazilian rival Gremio.
These days, the exploits of Cabrera and Ginobili have overshadowed the usual drumbeat of soccer.
Ole, the sports daily normally devoted almost entirely to soccer, featured a front-page photo Monday of Cabrera bear-hugging his U.S. Open trophy – calling him the “monster of golf.’’
Marcelo Nogueira, a top editor at Ole, said the Cabrera and Ginobili victories are refreshing in a soccer-mad nation.
“Bearing in mind this is a country where soccer is clearly the No. 1 sport … it opens up people’s eyes a little bit to the fact that there are other Argentine sports stars out there,’’ he said.
Diario Popular, another Argentine daily, called Cabrera the “angel of golf’’ in a play on his first name and noted his victory was a “triumph for Argentine sports.’’
Cabrera is 12th in European Tour career earnings. Yet despite six previous top-10 finishes in majors, he is almost never mentioned among the top contenders in big tournaments, and headlines about his best finishes are normally relegated to the pages behind soccer.
Not on Monday.
“This time, the angels were on Cabrera’s side … he’s finally obtained what he’s always hungered for: a title in one of the majors,’’ wrote Daniel Petisch in a sports column for Clarin daily.
Cabrera’s compatriots reveled in the first victory by an Argentine in one of golf’s major events in 40 years.
The last time was when Roberto de Vicenzo won the 1967 British Open and as La Nacion declared “such feats only acquire their true dimension with the passage of time … he now joins the greats of the history of Argentine sports.’’
Even de Vicenzo chimed in, telling La Nacion he was pleased there was another of his countrymen joining him in the Argentine record book.
“For me there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing another Argentine golfer win a major,’’ de Vicenzo said. “That’s great they’ve caught up to me!’’
Ginobili wasn’t to be outdone either. After dominating sports pages last week he was back again Monday.
La Nacion ran a 12-page special section Monday devoted to Ginobili, who with Tony Parker led the San Antonio Spurs over the Cleveland Cavaliers in a four-game sweep and claimed their fourth NBA title Thursday.
The photo: a smiling Ginobili lifting the trophy on San Antonio’s Riverwalk amid a crush of photographers.
“We’ve already worn out words of praise,’’ sports columnist Juan Pablo Varsky wrote in La Nacion.
“It’s so extraordinary what Manu has accomplished that we are at a loss for words … it’s seems almost normal, almost a given that Ginobili is at the summit of world basketball. But that isn’t normal and Manu is now one of the greats of Argentine sport.’’
Cabrera is up there, too.
But some people like Buenos Aires police officer Gustavo Ledesma said that while golf and NBA victories are fantastic, soccer is what holds the passion of the country.
He said the country is anxiously awaiting the Boca Juniors-Gremio matchup Wednesday. Involving one of Argentina’s two most popular teams, the match in Brazil is expected to bring the country to a standstill for two hours as millions watch on television.
“It’s great,’’ Ledesma said characterizing the triumphs of Ginobili and Cabrera. “But we Argentines, we’re fans of soccer.’’