The impregnable quadrilateral was not meant to be easily within reason for the worlds No. 1 player. At least not this year.
Trevor Immelman, a steely-eyed young South African, won The Masters Sunday at blustery Augusta National by three shots over Woods by shooting a final round 75 and by keeping his head when, all about him, others were losing theirs.
It was tough, said Immelman, who began the final round with a two-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker. I was trying to be tough.
Said Woods, who has now finished runner-up five times in major championships including two straight at Augusta National, I just didnt make any putts all week.
For the countless legions of Woods fans worldwide, there will now be a letdown. But heres a scoop: Golf was doing just fine before Woods showed up on the scene. It has been doing even better (much better) since he has commanded our attention on all the big stages by winning 13 major championships before his 32d birthday. And golf will be over Woods defeat at the hands of the worthy Immelman by the time the best players in the world convene for the next major championship in June at the U.S. Open in California.
Woods will be the heavy favorite then and there, too. But this time and place belonged to Immelman who, less than six months ago, underwent surgery to remove a benign tumor from his diaphragm.
To be sure, Trevor Immelman knows from tough.
Sunday in Augusta began with the old-timers waxing portentous about the 1956 Masters and the wind that howled through Amen Corner all Sunday long. On that occasion Jackie Burke Jr. began the day eight shots behind a 24-year-old amateur named Ken Venturi. Yes, THAT Ken Venturi.
Burke, now in his 80s, would later insist that the wind was gusting up to 50 miles an hour that day. He would talk about the up an down par he made on the par 3 fourth by hitting a driver and a 9-iron that left him with an impossible 30-foot downhill putt that didnt look so impossible when it settled in the hole.
Venturi, who would later win a U.S. Open and become CBS-TVs lead analyst for decades of Masters broadcasts, skied to an 80. Burkes 71 was one of only two subpar rounds recorded that day (the other was Sam Snead) and it was good enough to edge Venturi by a shot.
These same anticipated conditions were supposed to play into the hands of Woods who welcomed the Sunday winds. But they never got anywhere near 50 miles an hour. And when Woods missed a 4-footer for birdie on 13 moments after Immelman drained a 20-footer for par on 11, what looked like a tight three-shot spread between the leader and the worlds No. 1, was still five.
Meanwhile Steve Flesch, who began the day three back of Immelmans lead, dunked a short iron into the water fronting the 12th green. The subsequent double bogey loosened Fleschs firm grip on second and shoved him back into the pack that never got closer than two to Immelman all afternoon.
Brandt Snedeker, who played in the final pairing with Immelman Saturday and Sunday, squandered an eagle on the par 5 second by posting five bogeys on the front side. He finished with a 77 and a share of third place with Stewart Cink. Two-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson wound up tied for fifth with Flesch and British Open champion Padraig Harrington.
So there you have it. The 28-year-old Immelman, ranked No. 29 in the world at the start of the week, is officially a star in ascension. He is the only player in the world currently younger than 30 to have won a major championship.
With apologies to Woods, who was a frustrated but good sportsman in defeat, it is easily within reason to posit the notion that Trevor Immelmans first major championship wont be his last.
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