Trevor Immelman withstood the brutal wind and course conditions at Augusta that derailed his three closest competitors to win the 72nd Masters. Immelman went wire to wire for his first Major, tied for the lead after 18 holes, and alone in first after 36 and 54.
It was a final day that reminded people more of a U.S. Open than a Masters. No one made a serious run at Immelman after Brandt Snedeker eagled the second hole to pull into a tie for the lead at 10 under. But from that point, the wheels fell off for the 2007 Rookie of the Year Snedeker, who finished up in a tie for third with Stewart Cink
Second place? One Tiger Woods. But it wasn’t really close. Time and time again, from Saturday evening on, we heard how Tiger had never came back to win a major when he was not in the lead after 54 holes. On this day, Tiger shot three strokes better than Immelman…but that was of no help when he entered the day six strokes behind. Uncharacteristically, Woods’ putter betrayed him time and time again, as he missed putts that were less than 10 feet in length several times throughout the day.
You could tell how Tiger felt about his putter after he made a 20 footer for a birdie to finish up the day, prompting Tiger to give a dismissive wave of his hand towards the ball.
It had been a rough week for many of the game’s better players. Missing the cut entirely were Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Rory Sabbatini, and Luke Donald, along with former major winners Ben Curtis, Michael Campbell, Shaun Micheel, and for the first time in 24 years, Fred Couples.
The final day was not kind to many, as only four players were under par for the day, all of them playing earlier in the day before the winds started resembling what you’d see in Chicago. Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, and defending champ Zach Johnson succumbed to the conditions and tricky final day pin placements for rounds that they rarely see on tour. Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington, former winners of majors and two men always to look to challenge, couldn’t overcome previous bad rounds; Harrington shooting a 74 on Thursday, and Mickelson melting down with a 75 on Saturday. They both shot even par on Sunday to tie for fifth, but were never a threat.
Going into the start of the day, all the focus was on Tiger, and the four men in front of him…none who have ever finished higher than fourth in a Major. In fact, Brandt Snedeker was playing in his very first Masters as a professional. So the Conventional Thinking was, “if Tiger could ever come back from 6 strokes down on the final day of a major, this might be the time as the inexperience of the others will come into play”.
And 75% of the Conventional Thinking was correct. First to fall was Englishman Paul Casey. After a birdie on #3, he double-bogeyed #4, then bogeyed the next four holes, including having to call a one-stroke penalty on himself on the sixth green when the ball moved after he had grounded his club behind it. Casey ended up shooting a seven over 79, to finish at even par, good only for a tie for 11th place.
Steve Flesch, at 40 years old, seemed to have the better chance of remaining calm, and the early results reflected that. After 11 holes, the left hander was at even par for the day, sitting at 8 under, and only two strokes behind Immelman at the time. Then came the scariest short par three in professional golf, #12. Flesch put his drive into Rae’s Creek, leading to a double bogey. Unhinged, Flesch bogeyed four of the next five holes to finish tied for fifth at 2 under.
But the biggest roller coaster of the day came from the 27 year old from Nashville, Snedeker. After both he and Immelman had a case of the nerves to start off, and bogeyed the first hole, Snedeker responded with an amazing putt for eagle on the second hole, and then proceeded to put eight bogeys on the board as opposed to two birdies.
That was enough for Immelman. The young South African continued the path he had taken all week, hitting fairways and greens. He settled down after his first hole bogey, including making a birdie on the extremely difficult 455 yard par 4 fifth hole. From that point, Immelman did exactly what he had to do; avoid making huge mistakes. He won the tournament, for all practical purposes, on the toughest hole on the course, the 505 yard par 4 eleventh. Trying to stay away from the dreaded pond next to the green, Immelman laid up on his second shot, and then got too cautious on his third shot, leaving it on the fringe, 18 feet away from the whole. No problem; Trevor stepped up and knocked it right into the center of the cup, securing a then six shot lead.
He did have a hiccup at the final par 3 on number 16, inexplicably putting his drive in the pond, resulting in a double bogey and a three shot lead over Tiger. That was all he needed. With no ponds or creeks to worry about on the last two holes, Immelman did what he needed to do; continue hitting fairways and greens, leading to him receiving the Green Jacket in fame Butler Cabin.
At 28 years old, Immelman becomes the only current winner of a major that is under the age of 30. For that reason alone, this is a good sign for golf, although so many were hoping this might be the Year of the Tiger, with Woods winning the Grand Slam.
Maybe next year.
This year, Immelman becomes the first South African to win the Masters since his boyhood idol, Gary Player, won his miraculous victory in 1978. This is a surprising fact, given the talents of other South Africans such as Els, Goosen, Tim Clark, and the mercurial Sabbatini. But Immelman was one of those young players that had the quality of game to break through at any moment, like Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, and Aaron Baddeley.
There are certain to be major championships to come for some (perhaps all) of these men (except maybe Garcia, unless he ever learns how to putt). For now, the honor belongs solely to the young man who once had a picture taken as a five year old boy being held by the man he has worshiped since he knew what golf was. Rest assured, Gary Player is leading South Africa in celebrating this win. At the same tournament where Player this year set the record for appearing in the most Masters ever, it was only appropriate.