Immelman chases championship form of '08

Trevor Immelman during the first round of the 2013 Masters at Augusta National.

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— It’s only been five years since South African Trevor Immelman slipped a green jacket over his shoulders at Augusta National Golf Club, becoming the first South African to win the Masters since Gary Player. Sometimes it must seem like some other lifetime ago.

His Masters victory at age 28 was expected to propel Immelman to the next level. But it simply hasn’t happened. That was his last victory on any worldwide tour.

Initially, he had some health issues, including right wrist surgery in 2009 that ground his momentum to a halt. Slowly, his ballstriking has returned, but during the Florida Swing, Immelman suddenly struggled with his putting. And even after a solid, opening 4-under 68 at Augusta National, his confidence level seems tepid, at best.

Then again, Augusta National is a place he knows quite well, dating to his amateur days, when he played the Masters as the reigning U.S. Public Links champion in 1999. At 33 now, he’s making his 11th Masters start.

“There’s a long way to go, but hopefully I can keep the momentum going,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve shot a 68 to start the tournament since I shot a 68 to start in ‘08. Birdies are a precious commodity at these majors, so you try to bank them and keep them as long as you can.”

Since fall, Immelman has been working again with instructor Claude Harmon III. The two worked together early in Immelman’s career, then took an eight-year hiatus. Asked earlier this week when Immelman is going to return to form, Harmon said it could happen anytime, as long as he starts knocking down a few putts. He needed only 28 putts Thursday, as he hit 15 greens and did not make a single bogey.

Since his victory at Augusta in 2008, Immelman has made the cut in four consecutive starts, but has finished no higher than a tie for 15th.

“One of the missing ingredients for me right now, I need to gain some of the confidence I had five or six years ago,” he said. “I definitely found a nice rhythm on the back nine (shooting 33) and started hitting some quality shots. That was nice.

“I do remember what it was like. I don’t think I’d be ‘overawed’ by the situation if I had to hang around for a few more days.”

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