2008 champ Immelman finally feeling healthy again

By John FeinsteinApril 12, 2013, 9:24 pm

If Fred Couples feels as if he’s found the Fountain of Youth every time he drives down Magnolia Lane then it is probably fair to say that Trevor Immelman feels as if he’s found the Fountain of Health – mental and physical.

“I like everything about this place, starting with the drive in,” Immelman said with a smile late Thursday afternoon. “I’m comfortable here. I haven’t forgotten what it takes to play good golf here. I always come here believing it’s going to happen again.”

Immelman was 28 when he made it happen here in 2008, winning the Masters by three shots over someone named Woods. (Eldrick T. for those scoring at home). He wasn’t just a rising star at that point, he was a star – a major champion. Then injuries intervened – tendinitis in his left wrist and thumb that led to surgery late in 2009 that led to sporadic – and frequently awful – play when he returned.

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Through it all he still managed to make it back to Augusta every year and play reasonably well: he finished T-20 in 2009; T-14 in 2010 and T-15 in 2011. His best finish in the other three majors is a T-12 at the 2011 PGA Championship. Like everyone who has won here, Immelman feels different – special, lucky, relaxed – when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

All of those feelings came back Thursday when he made some putts – a rare occurrence lately – and shot 68, meaning he started the second round two shots out of the lead. Even though he struggled on the back nine Friday morning and shot 75, he was still in contention at 1-under-par 143 going into the weekend.

“He made a couple of putts early and you could see him relax a little,” said Scott Sajitanic, who has caddied for Immelman since last June. “Trevor’s hit the ball well for the last six months now and gotten nothing out of it. For a while, his chipping was just woeful and he’s worked hard to make it better. Now, he’s at the point where it’s a matter of making some putts.”

Sajitanic went to work for Stuart Appleby early in 2010 when Appleby had been struggling with his game. That summer, Appleby shot 59 in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic to win for the first time in more than four years. Sajitanic sees a lot of Appleby circa 2010 in Immelman circa 2013.

“They’re both so analytical,” he said. “They both want to break down every aspect of the golf swing to the point where they tend to start playing swing and stop playing golf. All I keep telling Trevor is ‘chill out, enjoy playing.’ I just try to keep hammering him with that thought. When he does that – the way he did on Thursday – he’s a different player. I have no doubt when he won here he was just playing golf and enjoying it. That’s what he needs to get back to doing.”

Immelman’s victory here was stunning for several reasons, one being that he had only one victory on the PGA Tour. More remarkable, though, was that he had been in a South African hospital wondering if he’d ever play golf or be healthy again four months earlier.

He began to feel severe pain in his rib cage while preparing for a tournament prior to Christmas in 2007 and went to a hospital for tests. A lesion on his lung was discovered that was – ironically enough – the size of a golf ball. The lesion turned out to be benign. Nonetheless, it was a frightening experience especially for someone who had become a father for the first time 18 months earlier. 

It took Immelman eight weeks of treatment and recovery time before he could play golf again. His response was the win at Augusta. But just when he seemed on the verge of becoming an elite player his health intervened again. This time it was his wrist. After playing in pain for several months in 2009, he had surgery. Since then, the game he made look so easy has been very hard.

“I know my results don’t show it (his best finish this year has been a T-38 in Los Angeles) but I have felt as if I’m close to playing well for a while now,” he said. “Being here certainly helps.

“I love the idea that I can come here the rest of my life, that I can go to the Champions Dinner every year, that I have a place here. I feel as if I know the golf course and I know the greens. I honestly believe if I can hang around until Sunday I can handle myself in the heat because I did it here before.”

He smiled. “This (Thursday) is just one round. There’s a long way to go until Sunday.”

That was evident on Friday but Immelman didn’t fall apart completely as he might have in the recent past.

“Honestly, he just needs to wake up happy in the morning,” Sajitanic said. “I feel quietly confident that he’s getting close to that corner he needs to turn. I like to watch him putt here because the greens are so fast you can't be mechanical. You have to feel the ball into the hole. He does that here. When he’s here, golf seems to become fun again.

“I could feel it on the first tee Thursday. Then he made about a 12-footer for par on nine and you could almost feel him loosen up and feel confident. He just needs to do more of that.”

The good news is that Immelman’s wrist is – finally – completely healed. His golf swing has healed too. Now, as with so many good players, he has to find his putting touch. If he can do that this weekend and can climb back onto the leaderboard, it could give him the jump-start he needs.

“I still remember watching this tournament when I was a 6-year-old kid in South Africa,” Immelman said. “It was 1986 – (Jack) Nicklaus’ back-nine 30 to beat all those guys coming down the stretch. I remember thinking way back then, ‘I’d like to play there some day.’

“Then I not only got to play I actually won. Every year at the (Champions) dinner I look around and pinch myself and say, ‘Am I really here?’ I’m sitting at a table with Arnie and Jack and all of these guys who are heroes of mine. It’s amazing.”

Immelman has staked out a place near the far end of the table opposite from where the defending champion and the chairman sit. He usually finds himself sitting with Nick Faldo and Gary Player. On Tuesday he got a brief scare when Player, in mid-story (naturally) appeared to be choking on some food.

Charl Schwartzel jumped up and pounded him on the back and he was OK,” he said. “It was scary for a minute. I was thinking he might need the Heimlich for a minute. The best part, though, was that once he was OK, Gary didn’t miss a beat. He just went back to his story.”

Immelman expects to hear a lot more of those stories in the years to come. In the meantime, he’d like to write a few more of his own on the golf course.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.