He beat off Jim Furyk and Tiger Wodds by one shot to win in a thrilling final round. Britains Justin Rose came in joint 10th place.
Cabrera becomes only the second Argentine to win a major, emulating Roberto de Vicenzo’s 1967 Open triumph at Hoylake.
Paul Casey and Justin Rose, who started their final rounds with hopes of winning Britain’s first US Open since 1970, never really got it going.
Casey saw birdie putts stay up at three of the first four holes and it seemed to rattle him. A run of four bogeys and a double from the 5th sent him plummeting down the leaderboard but he gathered himself to finish with two birdies for a 76 and an 11-over total.
Rose posted the same fourth-round score and 72-hole total but will be disappointed with his back nine. That said, a share of 10th place with Canadian Stephen Ames is no mean feat for these two young talents.
But the two Englishmen were far from being the only players to toil on another taxing day at this most difficult of venues. Once more the day’s scoring average was almost five shots worse than par, and for the fourth day in a row only two men beat par.
That one of those should be Cabrera, the other being American Anthony Kim, says it all. Cabrera was also the only man to post two sub-par rounds.
Aaron Baddeley’s hopes of becoming the second Australian to win this title in a row effectively ended with a shocking triple-bogey at the 1st. He kept plugging away but his 10-over 80, which included a double and five further bogeys, saw him slide to 12 over for the tournament and a share of 13th. A cruel result.
Ames was another to have his hopes raised then emphatically dashed. A triple-bogey at seven and a double at nine saw him fall out of the reckoning.
And it was like that all afternoon. At one stage there was a five-way tie for the lead but in truth it was impossible to keep up with all the comings and goings.
Cabrera, who led at the halfway stage, started his final round four off Baddeley’s lead but while others struggled he started stringing birdies together – five in 12 holes from the 4th.
Mistakes at the short 16th and relatively easy 17th, however, could have let in Furyk or Woods, but the former bogeyed the 17th and could not find the birdie he needed at 18.
And the inspiration just was not there when Woods needed it. With birdies required he could only manage pars, seven of them in a row from the 12th. And too many of those were of the “great save” variety for a player of his usually immaculate standards.
“Angel played a beautiful round of golf,” Woods said. “He put the pressure on and Jim and I didn’t get it done.”
“Finishing second is never fun. You play so hard, and it’s just disappointing.”
The world number one never stopped trying, though, and it was not until his long birdie effort at 18 missed that Cabrera could start celebrating. If that had dropped, and nobody was betting against that happening, everybody would have been back on Monday for an 18-hole play-off that would surely have gone Woods’s way.
But the putt stayed up, the popular Cabrera got the breakthrough win he has been promising for some time and golf’s most famous maxim remained alive – Woods has won 12 major titles but none when he has had to come from behind to do it.