- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — They were together in the Butler Cabin, then on the putting green for the trophy presentation, both times Zach Johnson helping Trevor Immelman get his arms into a green jacket at the Masters.

They now belong to an exclusive club.

Not just because they have access to the upstairs locker room at Augusta National where only champions are allowed. Not just because they will break bread — or whatever Immelman puts on the menu — the Tuesday night before next year’s tournament. And not because Johnson and Immelman have an invitation for life to play in the Masters.

Both turned Tiger Woods into a runner-up.

It was only the fifth time in 45 majors that Woods was been awarded the silver medal and the second straight year at Augusta.

“What does it take? Part of that was just ignorance,” Johnson said.

He was more worried about a brutally hard golf course than any name on the leader board, even if one of those names was Woods. Johnson heard the ground-rattling roar from the 13th and knew Woods had made eagle, but he never looked at a leader board until he stood on the 16th tee. Then, he made birdie from 12 feet and hung on for a two-shot victory.

“I just play my game and hopefully make some putts,” he said.

That kind of thinking also worked for Immelman, and neither champion was handed anything.

Johnson closed with a 69, matching the best score of the final round, and won from the third-to-last group. Immelman faced the additional pressure of playing in the final group, sleeping on a two-shot lead. He shot 75, the highest final-round by a Masters champion since Arnold Palmer in 1962, but it is worth noting a couple of things.

The average score Sunday was 74.7, the highest for a final round at the Masters in nine years. And for most of the back nine, Immelman was headed toward the largest margin of victory since Woods in 1997 (a record 12 shots) until a mistake he could afford, hitting his tee shot into the water on the 16th for a double bogey.

So it was a three-shot victory, and it still puts Immelman in some fast company. In the last 10 years, the only players to win by that margin in a major were Woods, Jim Furyk, David Duval and Vijay Singh.

This should be a lesson that paying attention to a tough course beats worrying about a tough player.

And it should be a reminder the next time Woods wins a major by a million — or any tournament, for that matter — that it’s not simply a case of everyone melting when he gets into contention.

Immelman didn’t. Neither did Johnson last year at the Masters, nor Angel Cabrera last year at the U.S. Open.

The last two Masters champions had only one PGA Tour victory before they were fitted for a green jacket, and both earned it. That speaks to the breadth of talent in golf these days and makes Woods’ 13 majors look even more impressive.

But it also speaks to the difficulty in winning a calendar Grand Slam.

Immelman now is the only one capable of winning all four majors this year, and the odds are about as high as they were when Johnson won the Masters last year.

This is another thing they have in common.

Johnson was asked early in the week whether he gave any consideration to winning the Grand Slam last year.

“I’m shocked I didn’t,” he said with such a straight face that the room burst out laughing. “If it even crossed my mind — and I can’t recall if it did — it was in my mind briefly. I’m pretty realistic about things. It certainly was a possibility, but I just missed the U.S. Open. I finished 50th or something like that.”

As for Immelman? Could he win the Grand Slam?

“No,” he said. “Probably not.”

Woods is the only serious candidate for that, and he felt good enough about his game this year that he suggested a Grand Slam was “easily within reason.” Reminded he was the one who stirred the pot, Woods smiled and said, “I learned my lesson there with the press. I’m not going to say anything.”

Thanks to Immelman, he will have to wait another year to do anything about it.

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