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.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”