2008 Masters; Behind all that precision, Immelman is a true believer

AUGUSTA, GA. | Trevor Immelman won the Masters wire-to-wire on ballstriking and heart. The striking is apparent in the statistics. The heart was seen in the details.

Immelman scored in the 60s each of the first three rounds largely because he kept hitting fairways and greens. Then he closed the three-stroke victory over Tiger Woods on a windy Sunday by answering his mistakes with acts of game-saving brilliance, particularly at Amen Corner.

The 28-year-old South African led the field in driving accuracy (85.7 percent) and tied for second in greens in regulation (70.8). Not considered a bomber, he was fourth in driving distance (287.5) using a 2-week-old driver that his caddie, Neil Wallace, says has added 15 yards.

“The last two days, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody drive the ball as well as that, anywhere,” said Brandt Snedeker, paired with Immelman in the final twosome both weekend rounds.

“It was just an unbelievable display of ballstriking.”

The Masters always has demanded control with irons. But more and more, Augusta National demands precision off the tee. So that played to the strength of someone who some think has the best swing in golf if Woods doesn’t.

Immelman didn’t win the Masters the old-fashioned way, by dominating the par 5s or putting like Ben Crenshaw. He won with a compact swing so efficient that, remarkably, he played the par-4 holes in 10 under for the week.

He was only 3 under on the par 5s, a far cry from a year ago when winner Zach Johnson laid up 16 times and made 11 birdies. Or far different than the par-5 excellence that defines the six green jackets of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson or the six of Jack W. Nicklaus.

That said, Immelman’s play on the 510-yard 13th on the weekend contributed heavily to his victory. He laid up both days and stiffed two wedge shots in making birdies. And he did so in different ways – stopping a pitch by a back pin on a shelf Saturday and then spinning one back several feet the final day.

Immelman was so impressed with the third-round shot to the upper ridge that he said he could drop 50 balls in the fairway and not cozy an approach that close again.

Another factor is that he putted better than normal, at least until the seventh hole Sunday, tying for fourth in total putts and seventh in putts per GIR. He arrived ranked 196th on Tour in putting, averaging 30.5 a round, but whittled it to 28 here.

Though he missed putts of 3 and 6 feet at Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, he limited the damage with key makes after that. He saved par from a bunker with a downhill 8-foot curler at No. 9 and a 20-footer at 11, and he saved bogey from 4 feet at 12. He left Amen Corner five shots ahead.

His route to his second Tour victory was helped by the retreat of his closest competitors. The three players between Immelman’s 11 under par and Woods’

5 under entering Sunday shot at least 5 over. Snedeker had 77, Steve Flesch 78 and Paul Casey 79 on a day when the average was 74.66 and only four players broke par.

Immelman was fortunate, too, that Woods didn’t fire as usual. The world No. 1 missed the kind of putts he usually makes and was off except for a third-round 68. He missed four putts in the 6-foot range on the first 10 holes of the second round. Though he made a bomb at 11, the last day he missed from 21⁄2 feet at No. 4 and missed short putts at 13, 14 and 16.

“I just didn’t make any putts all week,” said the four-time Masters champion, who took eight more putts than Immelman. “All week I struggled dragging the blade through and wasn’t releasing it.”

Two other things contributed to Immelman’s victory: self-belief and a scouting trip to Augusta National March 28-29 that helped him plot strategy. He had struggled since a Dec. 18 surgery that removed a benign tumor behind his rib cage. In his first seven stroke-play tournaments, he missed four cuts and had a best finish of T-40.

“He just learned,” said his brother Mark, the coach at Columbus (Ga.) State University, “to trust what he does a little more.”

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