So, Trevor Immelman, think you can win the next three majors?
No, probably not, the South African replied, breaking into a toothy grin that blended quite nicely with that green jacket he was wearing Sunday evening.
Immelman could be forgiven for wanting to soak up his first major title before he worries about winning another. Besides, on a day when the wind howled and par was a good score at imposing Augusta National, even the newest Masters champion looked more relieved than joyous.
After tapping in at No. 18 to win with a closing 75'thats 3 over par' Immelman leaned over to retrieve his ball and wearily raised his arms. As victory celebrations go, this hardly compared to a defiant Woods fist pump or Phil Mickelson leaping joyously in the air.
The course was the real winner. Already facing a 7,445-yard behemoth and those devious greens, the worlds best players didnt stand a chance when gusts up to 30 mph shook the trees, rattled the flagsticks and played havoc with those little white balls.
Heck, Paul Casey lost a stroke standing over a putt. The Englishman was forced to call a penalty on himself when his ball rocked ever so slightly in the breeze whipping across the sixth green. He waved the white flag in the form of a 79. Steve Flesch hung on a little longer, going down for the count when he dunked his ball in Raes Creek at No. 12.
If you were looking for someone who best epitomized a final round that turned into an episode of Survivor, skip the guy wearing the green jacket. Look to Brandt Snedeker, bawling his eyes out after shooting 77 in the final group with Immelman.
It was just a rough day out there, the 27-year-old Tennessean said, sounding as though he has just listened to a tearjerker of a country song. You know, its hard to put that much effort into something and get so little out of it.
Not even Woods could mount the sort of back-nine charge that used to make this place so special on a Sunday afternoon.
Sure, he rolled in a 70-foot birdie putt at No. 11, the patrons erupting with a passion that was missing most of the week. It didnt last long. Woods missed a 5-footer at No. 13, took bogey at the next hole and that was it. When he did sink a birdie with his final stroke of the tournament, he simply waved his hand in disgust as if to say, Thanks for nothing.
I just didnt make any putts all week, Woods said. I hit the ball well enough to contend. I hit the ball definitely well enough to put pressure on Trevor back there, but I just didnt make any putts.
He regrets that confident assessment of his Grand Slam chances, which he described earlier this year as easily within reason. Sure, he finished second to Immelman, three strokes away from the winners 8-under 280, but there was no serious challenge from the guy with 13 major titles'none of them won from behind in the final round.
For 2008, Woods hopes of doing something grand are one and done. From now on, his lips are sealed.
I learned my lesson, he said. Im not going to say anything.
Immelmans final-round score was the highest for a winner since Arnold Palmer won with the same number in 1962. There was precious little drama, even when the leader inexplicably dumped his tee shot into the drink at No. 16 and took double-bogey.
He still went to the final two holes needing only to avoid a Van de Velde of a collapse, and those only happen once a lifetime. Immelman made an up-and-down par from the bunker at 17, then got safely down at the 18th despite driving into a massive divot in the middle of the fairway.
I didnt hear many roars out there, Immelman said. Its just so damn difficult.
Maybe the green jackets at Augusta National went a little overboard with their redesign a few years ago, which was called a Tiger proofing but has basically turned this into an U.S. Open wannabe. Forget about shooting 31 on the back side to win, as Jack Nicklaus did in 1986. Now, its just a matter of who makes the most pars and avoids the calamitous mistake.
While the tournament itself provided few compelling storylines, Immelmans journey to the major championship club was a rather interesting one.
He fell in love with golf at an early age, and his parents gave liberally of their time and resources to make sure the boys obvious talent was nurtured. The icon of South African golf, three-time Masters champion Gary Player, took an interest as the youngster was coming up through the ranks, telling anyone who would listen that this kid had the purest swing since Ben Hogan.
Player stuck to his guns, even when criticized for taking Immelman with a questionable captains pick for the 2005 Presidents Cup. The two played a practice round at Augusta, and Player called with encouraging words when Immelman went to the final round with a two-stroke lead.
Take your time, Player said in a voice mail message that his protegee got late Saturday. Keep your eyes on the ball an extra second on the putts. There will be bad breaks, but I know youre going to win.
Aside from Players rah-rahs, Immelman didnt look like much of a contender when he got to Augusta. He had a good excuse, though.
Back in December, shortly after winning a tournament in his native country, he had trouble breathing and felt a severe pain in his ribcage. He went to see his doctor, who noticed a tumor on his diaphragm. He waited five frightening days to undergo surgery'it was a holiday weekend in South Africa'but the growth turned out to be benign.
He was left with a 7-inch scar across his lower back and a game that needed a lot of work. He missed the cut in half of his first eight events this year, and hadnt finished higher than 40th in stroke play on those rare times he make the weekend.
This has probably been the ultimate roller-coaster ride, and I hate roller coasters, Immelman said. Here I am after missing the cut last week, and Im the Masters champion. Its the craziest thing Ive ever heard of.