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Immelman conquers a brutal Augusta layout; No Grand Slam for Tiger

Trevor Immelman, Masters champion, Augusta National
John Biever/SI
Immelman is the first South African Masters champion since Gary Player.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Trevor Immelman swings like Ben Hogan, looks like Paul Casey, and until Sunday was best known in the U.S. for a PGA Tour TV spot in which he narrated his imagined FedEx Cup victory into a hairbrush.

Not anymore. In swirling winds that wreaked havoc on most of the field, Immelman held his nerve and survived a late double bogey to shoot a final-round 75 and win the 2008 Masters by three shots over Tiger Woods, who also finished second in 2007.

"Here I am, after missing the cut last week, the Masters champion," Immelman said. "It's the craziest thing I've ever heard of."

Stewart Cink, paired with Woods in the third-to-last group of the day, shot a 72 to finish in a tie for third with Brandt Snedeker, who played with Immelman and missed several short putts on the way to a 77.

"The way it was playing, pars on all those back-nine holes were just such a good score," Immelman said. "How many two-shot swings did we have today? You could have a two-shot swing every hole. I just tried to hang in there."

Steve Flesch shot his worst round of the week, a 78, to drop into a tie for fifth at two under par with Padraig Harrington (72 on Sunday) and Phil Mickelson (72).

Immelman led most of the day. He was caught briefly at 10-under when Snedeker elicited Sunday's biggest roar with an eagle on the par-5 second hole, but Snedeker fought his putter and began to lose shots, while Immelman held relatively steady. Woods lurked on the first page of the leaderboard throughout the day but was never a factor.

"To win a major while he's playing — and he's playing at his peak, he's told us that — is a hell of an achievement," Immelman said. The 28-year-old is the first South African to win the green jacket since Gary Player 30 years ago, which comes as no surprise to Player himself, since Immelman possesses a swing that the grand old man of South African golf likens to Hogan's.

That swing held up. Immelman hit 48 of 56 fairways to lead the field at 85 percent (compared to 68 percent for Woods), and hit 51 of 72 greens in regulation. (Only Brian Bateman, with 52, hit more.) The winner took 112 putts, tied for fourth best.

Immelman has until now been fourth on the list of the three most prominent South African golfers (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini) and could have been excused if he felt not only overlooked but slighted. Even his friends haven't always seemed to line up in his corner. When Immelman used a belly putter to win a tournament in Europe in 2004, Els was quoted calling the long putter legalized cheating. Immelman was hardly the first to win with the long wand, and he'd just nabbed the biggest victory of his career. He felt singled out by Els.

"I only used it for two months," he told Golf Magazine at the 2006 Tour Championship. "I was trying to create a feel. We've always been friends, but it was kind of a touchy subject for a little while."

Els is 38, about the same age as Immelman's brother Mark. They played junior and amateur golf together. If a South African was going to win the Masters, the Big Easy (74-74, missed the cut) and Goosen (76 on Sunday, T17) seemed like the most likely candidates. Sabbatini (75-74, missed the cut) had tied for second place at the 2007 Masters.

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