- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s now clear that there’s nothing wrong with Trevor Immelman’s back.

Less than four months after surgeons removed a golf ball-sized tumor from his diaphragm, the 28-year-old South African carried the lead around for four long days at Augusta National, emerging from yesterday’s windswept finale at the 72nd Masters with the first major title of his young career.

“I still can’t believe I’m sitting in this position,” said Immelman, snuggled in a green jacket after closing with a survival 75 on the 7,445-yard, par-72 layout to finish 8 under and three strokes clear of heavy pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods.

Even that final margin doesn’t do justice to just how thoroughly Immelman dominated the field for the better part of four rounds in becoming the first wire-to-wire winner at the Masters since Raymond Floyd in 1976.

For the week, Immelman finished among the top four in all four key statistical categories — driving accuracy, putting, greens in regulation and driving distance. No club set him up for more success than his driver. He led the field in driving accuracy (hitting 48 of 56 fairways) and finished fourth in driving distance (287.5 yards), exhibiting a devastating combination of accuracy and power off the tee.

When Immelman walked onto the 15th green in yesterday’s final pairing, he stood 10 under for the event, holding a quasi-laughable six-stroke lead over playing partner Brandt Snedeker and Woods. Moments later, Immelman would make his lone major miscue of the week, tugging his approach to the par-3 16th into the water en route to a double-bogey. Woods then birdied the final hole while Immelman was struggling at the 17th to lend a momentary aura of suspense to the proceedings.

But any inkling of true drama was short-lived. Immelman posted an up-and-down par from the front bunker at the 17th and then shrugged off the fact that his drive at the last hole burrowed into a mid-fairway divot to post a ho-hum par.

“The last two days, I don’t think I’ve seen a guy drive the ball that well … ever,” said Snedeker, the high-spirited player who entered the day two strokes behind Immelman but was blown into a tie for third at 4 under after a disappointing 77. “It was just an unbelievable display of ball striking. Other than that little hiccup at No. 16, and you expect that when you’re trying to win your first major, Trevor played great. I hiccuped my way all the way around the golf course.”

So did most of Saturday’s leader board principals.

Courtesy of the gusting wind and crusty, quicksilver greens, the field finished with a tournament-high 74.67 scoring average. And nobody suffered more than those in the crucible of contention. Immelman’s three closest pursuers entering the day slumped to a 77 (Snedeker), 78 (Steve Flesch) and 79 (Paul Casey).

Woods put up a slightly better fight, though for all intents and purposes his bid for a fifth green jacket and first leg of the Grand Slam went begging with a point-blank birdie miss from five feet at the 13th hole.

“I just didn’t putt well all week,” Woods said. “You have good weeks and bad weeks, and this wasn’t my best.”

But it was an awesome exhibition for the talented Immelman, who received a prescient voice mail from his idol and countryman Gary Player on the eve of the finale. The three-time champion delivered the following message: “There will be bad breaks, but I know that you’re going to win.”

The last year of Immelman’s life has been littered with bad breaks — from a debilitating stomach parasite to the tumor that forced him to spend last Christmas fretting over biopsy results in a South African hospital bed.

Compared to such concerns, a little wind, a 13-time major champion, a double-bogey, a divot and breakthrough stress proved of little consequence. Thus on the 30th anniversary of Player’s last Masters uprising and final major victory, another smallish South African in black shrugged into a green jacket.

“I’m sure [Player] is proud of me,” said Immelman, who never stopped smiling from the moment he holed the event’s final putt until he stepped off the media center dais. “I always dreamed about winning majors, and deep down I always thought I was good enough. … I’m going to keep working hard and try to make the most of what I’ve been given.”




Immelman joins Locke, Player, Els and Goosen as major winners


Woods will lose some sleep over what might have been


Returns to old self after one-year run as virtual U.S. Open track


Unpredictable gusts up to 20 mph buffeted the field during the finale


Immelman plays seriously spotty golf down the stretch


“I learned my lesson there with the press.”

” Tiger Woods on his comments three months ago that winning all four majors in the same year was “easily within reason”

“This has been the ultimate roller-coaster ride, and I hate roller coasters. I win the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, and a week later I’m having an operation to remove a tumor. … I felt like I had to start from zero again. Here I am after missing the cut last week. Masters champion ” it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

” Masters champion Trevor Immelman


4 Players who finished yesterday’s final round under par. Miguel Angel Jimenez’s 4-under 68 and Heath Slocum’s 3-under 69 were the only two rounds below 70.

30 Years since a South African won the Masters. Gary Player won his third Masters in 1978 and set a record by playing for the 51st time this year. Immelman started the week by playing a practice round with his boyhood idol, Player.

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