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The Masters: Immelman wins

By Bret Strelow
Salisbury Post
AUGUSTA, Ga. ó Trevor Immelman walked alongside Brandt Snedeker as they marched up the 18th fairway, and Snedeker stopped in his tracks once he reached the large shadow in front of the crowded green.
Snedeker motioned for his playing partner to continue moving forward, and Immelman soaked up the loud ovation directed squarely at him.
Immelman remained relatively steady as his counterparts struggled in the final round of the Masters, and he captured his first major championship Sunday at Augusta National. He shot a 3-over-par 75 and finished with an 8-under total of 280 to beat Tiger Woods by three strokes.
Immelman, 28, contracted a stomach parasite two days before the opening round of last year’s tournament and managed to make the cut. He dropped 22 pounds in the month leading up to his return to competitive play at the Wachovia Championship in Charlotte.
Immelman had a benign tumor removed from his diaphragm four months ago, and he registered one top-20 finish in eight events prior to the Masters.
“This has probably been the ultimate roller-coaster ride,” he said, “and I hate roller coasters.”
Immelman became the second South African to win the Masters, and his victory coincided with the 30th anniversary of Gary Player’s third triumph.
Player, 72, arrived in Augusta last week to prepare for his 51st appearance. He flew to the Middle East after missing the cut but left an inspirational voicemail on Immelman’s phone Saturday night.
“I played it to my whole family on speaker phone,” Immelman said.
Player told Immelman to take his time Sunday and keep his eyes on the ball for an extra second as he putted.
Immelman received a warning that he’d encounter bad breaks as well as an assuring guarantee that he’d win the tournament.
“He’ll be so proud of me,” Immelman said. “I’ve known Mr. Player since I was 5 years old, and he’s always been there to support me and encourage me and give me a kick in the butt when I needed it. I really owe him a lot for all the advice he’s given me.”
Immelman entered the final round with a two-shot lead on Snedeker, and both players bogeyed the first hole. Snedeker used a 35-foot eagle putt at No. 2 to pull even at 10 under, but he played the next nine holes at 5 over.
Steve Flesch drew within two shots of the lead when Immelman made a bogey at No. 8, but Flesch’s approach into the par-3 12th hole found Rae’s Creek in Amen Corner. A double bogey enabled Immelman to claim a four-shot lead with seven holes remaining, and he survived a double bogey at No. 16 that offered Woods a slim hope of slipping into his fifth green jacket.
“To win a major while he’s playing, and he’s playing at his peak ó he’s told us that he’s playing at his peak ó it’s a hell of an achievement,” Immelman said. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it done again, but I’ll be trying my best.”
Woods fell short in his bid to win a 14th major but leapfrogged Snedeker, Flesch and Paul Casey thanks to a final-round 72.
Snedeker, who won the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro last year as a PGA Tour rookie, fired a 77 and tied Stewart Cink for third place.
Flesch, three shots behind Immelman after 54 holes, shot 78 on Sunday. He tied Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington for fifth place. Casey played with Flesch in the next-to-last pairing and posted a 79.
“We were all playing under difficult conditions, and we figured if we shot something in the 60s we were going to be right there with a chance to win and try to put a lot of pressure on Trevor up there,” Woods said. “It turns out that would have been the case, but I didn’t do my part.”
Only four players broke par Sunday, and none of them were in the final 11 groups. Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 68 for the low round of the day and jumped from 35th place to eighth.
Immelman never had to concern himself with playing catch-up. He held a share of the first-round lead, was in sole possession of first after the completion of the next two rounds and matched Arnold Palmer’s mark from 1962 as the highest final-round score for a Masters winner.
“I’ve played with very few golfers who can manage their emotions, manage their swing and manage the golf course that well,” said Snedeker, who broke into tears several times during his press conference. “He’ll tell you he didn’t putt that great today. If he had putted great ó it still wasn’t really close ó but it wouldn’t have been anywhere in the ballpark of close.”

Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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