Trevor Immelman followed in the illustrious footsteps of Gary Player by becoming only the second South African winner of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. The 28 year old completed a wire-to-wire victory with a final round of 75 for a three stroke triumph over World Number One, Tiger Woods.
Immelman, a three-time champion on The European Tour, chose the 30th anniversary of Player’s third and last victory to claim his first Green Jacket after a blustery day in Georgia which blew away the hopes and ambitions of most challengers.
And in doing so, the player who cut his teeth on The European Tour, winning three times, became the first player since Seve Ballesteros way back in 1980 to lead from start to finish.
Woods, seeking a fifth Green Jacket, finished with a level par 72 for 283 while his fellow Americans Brandt Snedeker (77) and Stewart Cink (72) claimed a share of third spot on 284, four under par.
Open Champion Padraig Harrington finished as the leading European after a final round of 72 for a two under par total of 286. The Irishman was left to regret an opening 74 but displayed commendable resolve to finish tied for fifth place with former winner Phil Mickelson and Steve Flesch of the United States.
Meanwhile Immelman had surgery to remove a benign tumour behind the rib cage late last year and only began to play against competitively six weeks ago. And even the fact that he is the first person since Craig Stadler in 1982 to win with a final round over par couldn't wipe the grin from his face.
He remarked: "I knew I had to just be as tough as I can and hang in there. I'm so proud of myself. I actually still can't believe that I got the job done."
Immelman added: "I grew up watching win this Championship back home in South Africa and I would be sitting up now at midnight watching these guys win and just dreaming about getting here some time. I can't believe that I have won the same tournament. Even though I shot what I shot today, it was just so difficult out there. And I'm real proud of myself for hanging in there through the adversity today and just trying to keep my chin up and stay focused and just try and hit shot for shot."
He also revealed that Player, the three-time Masters Champion, had phoned him on Saturday with a message of encouragement.
Immelman explained: "He's on his way to the Middle East so he's probably got some jet lag. But he'll be so proud of me. I've known Mr. Player since I was five years old, and he's always been there to support me and encourage me and give me a kick in the butt when I needed it. And I really owe him a lot for all the advice he's given me, even when we played on Tuesday in the practice round. I know he'll be proud of me and I thank him for all the support."
"Just to be a Major Champion - and be a Champion here at the Masters - is what I've dreamt about since I was a very young man. And at times you doubt whether you're good enough to get it done and at times when things are going wrong you wonder if it will ever happen. But I'm living proof that if you work hard and believe in yourself it can happen.
"I won the tournament right before I got diagnosed with a tumour, then I'm lying in the hospital bed and I'm just trying to get the right result out of that. Then I make a pretty strong recovery, I get back on tour, I miss a bunch of cuts, I'm struggling with my game, struggling to get comfortable with my game again, and I felt like I had to start back from zero. And I was just kind of chipping away every week up until this point winning the Masters by three strokes, I mean, it's just kind of crazy, really."
The vagaries of the weather were perfectly summed up by the fortunes of England’s Paul Casey and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez. The Spaniard, one of the fourth round back markers, fired a wonderful best of the day 68 to climb to tied eighth with Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and Argentina’s Andres Romero.
Casey, by contrast, was undone by a double bogey on the fourth and then called a penalty shot on himself at the sixth on his way to a closing 79 and a level par total of 288 left him in a share of 11th place.
Casey could only sigh deeply and say: “It’s very difficult to rationalise. The disappointing moment was the fourth hole. I had a difficult lie in the bunker and probably compounded it with a poor bunker shot.
“That really was the moment I hit the two poorest shots I hit all week and walked away with a double bogey there and having a ball move on me on the sixth took the wind out of my sails.
When the ball moved I was thinking: make a par, right the ship and end the bogey streak.
“That is out of your control and very difficult to handle. That kind of threw me for a couple of holes and that was it. Trevor’s win is going to make me work even harder because he’s one of my mates and is someone I want to beat.
Meanwhile Harrington finished two places higher than he did in 2007 to underline his claims for a Green Jacket to add to the Claret Jug which he clutched at Carnoustie last year.
The frustrated Irishman reviewed his week by saying: “My short game was poor. In the middle of the round I have opportunities, starting with the eighth when I didn’t get up and down. I had some good chances.
“I didn’t play a good chip at eight, nine or 11 and I hit a poor sand wedge at 14 so that’s five shots I gave away and you can’t do that on a windy day so I know where the work needs to be done.
“We always knew there were possibilities out there in these conditions. I felt good about my game. I was well in the zone. I was a bit rushed after 11 and it took me a few holes to get going again and I will look back and reflect on where a couple of shots went adrift.
“Trevor is a deserved winner. It is his week, but I feel like I left some shots out there. I was very comfortable on the golf course most of the week, especially today when I was in the zone and when it comes to Major Championshups you want to be in the right mental state because if you do that you know good things will happen.
“I am not satisfied with a high finish. It won’t go down on my CV. Finishing sixth or whatever in the Masters is nice but we are all about getting out there and winning. You have to be patient and get into position, like sixth, to challenge and this says to me I am doing the right things.
“There were some mistakes but I feel my preparation was good. I set out my stall to build up for the Masters and I’ve set out my stall that nothing else matters but the US Open for the next couple of months. In some ways I put myself under pressure and I was 4 over par and outside the cut mark after 30 holes of golf and played good golf after that.
“I feel like I am walking away staying that there is nothing in my golf game that needs to be tackled. It’s all there and just a questions of getting the best out of myself n these weeks.
Jiménez holed his second shot at the seventh with a seven iron then charged home in 33 and declared: “It was very satisfying. My goal on Friday was just to make the cut on Friday and then hope to jump up as much as possible. It was a tough day today there. Everything was difficult but I hit the ball solid from tee to green all week.”
England’s Nick Dougherty was tied 33rd on his Masters debut and can’t wait to return again in the future.
“It’s been a superb week” smiled Dougherty. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. I would like to have scored better over the weekend but delighted to play all four days and I think I’ve done myself proud. It’s been memorable and I think I’ve taken a lot out of it although finishing bogey bogey was disappointing today.
“It’s a case of getting the distance control right. That’s the really tough bit. Distance control is key here. I think it’s great here in terms of the imagination needed to perform. You need patience and acceptance and I learned that during the week.
“Today I got a lot of bad breaks and I think a lot of it is karma. It’s a very clever golf course and you need to feel right. If you get bad breaks and start to beat yourself up it seems to keep happening. All in all I played pretty well but it just didn’t happen.”
Justin Rose could not disguise his frustration at finishing tied 36th following last year’s fifth place finish. “I am disappointed. It was a weird week and I suppose it turned out to be the short game which let me down. The first couple of days I felt my long game was in good shape but I didn’t score well and as the week went on my short game didn’t help me.
“I found it very difficult to grind this week once I slipped out of the tournament. Ball striking wise everything was in good shape. There is no issue with that part of my game.
“It didn’t happen this week. Last year I putted great but this year I struggled to read the greens and I started second-guessing the stroke and second-guessing the read. I lost a bit of confidence and it became tough.”