Immelman wins Tour Finals opener


Trevor Immelman sure picked an ideal time for his first victory in more than five years.

In danger of losing his playing privileges on the PGA Tour, the South African fired a final-round 66 Sunday to win the Hotel Fitness Championship, the first of four events in the new Tour Finals.

Patrick Cantlay, the former No. 1 amateur in the world, missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would have forced a playoff. The 21-year-old was 25th on the money list entering last week’s event, despite missing more than three months with a back injury. He missed the cut at the Cox Classic and needs to go this route in order to earn a Tour card.

Immelman had only five top 10s since his major breakthrough at the 2008 Masters. By finishing 143rd on the FedEx Cup points standings, the 33-year-old was sent back to Triple-A to try to regain his status on the PGA Tour.

This past season, he missed as many cuts as he made (12), recorded just one top 10 (a T-9 at Hilton Head), and endured a late-season stretch in which he failed to earn a paycheck in eight of nine starts.

No matter. Immelman shot 67-66-69 at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind., and was five shots back to start the final round. After an eagle on the par-5 second, he tacked on birdies on Nos. 5, 6, 12 and 13 before his lone bogey on the par-5 15th.

Needing a birdie to create some separation from third-round co-leader Cantlay and Kevin Kisner, Immelman buried a 25-foot birdie putt on the final green to post 20-under 268.

This was the first of four events that will help determine which players graduate to the PGA Tour for the 2013-14 season. The top 25 cumulative money earners after these four tournaments will receive Tour cards, joining the previous 25 players who finished atop the Tour money list.

These Finals bring together the top 75 on the money list, as well as Nos. 126-200 on the FedEx Cup points, the non-members who were inside the top 200, and those who were playing on special medical exemptions.

It was an encouraging start for many.

Bud Cauley was in contention for the 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year award before following it up with a disappointing sophomore campaign. He shot all four rounds in the 60s this week, but squandered a chance to win when he double-bogeyed the 15th hole. He finished T-5, three shots behind.

Also in a tie for fifth was John Peterson, who narrowly missed out on his Tour card at last week’s regular-season finale. He rebounded with a final-round 64 to head into the second event in good position.

Michael Putnam has already secured full status on Tour after winning the money title, but he opted for competition instead of rest and finished T-7 in Fort Wayne.

Those with work to do in the Finals include Chad Campbell (T-55), Robert Karlsson (T-55), Kevin Na (T-65) and Colt Knost (68). Ryo Ishikawa, Chris DiMarco, Heath Slocum, Vaughn Taylor and Ricky Barnes were among those who missed the cut in the opener.