HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Trevor Immelman learned much about his game and himself during a magical year as Masters champion.
Now that it’s officially over, the young South African is hopeful those lessons will lead him to more success in his burgeoning golf career.
“It was just such a dream to win the Masters and last year was tough sometimes because I put so much pressure on myself,” Immelman said. “I tell you what, coming up the last few holes last Sunday was difficult. It was emotional because it was over and I knew I wasn’t winning again.”
“The way I look at it now,” he continued, “is I can close the chapter on 2008.”
He opened what he hopes is a successful 2009 Thursday with a 5-under 66 at the Verizon Heritage that left him two shots behind leader Alex Cejka, who shot his best round in almost two years with a 64.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen was alone at 65 and Immelman next by himself.
Immelman came to his final hole, the 9th, with a chance to catch Cejka. But he put his approach in a bunker over the green and could not save par.
Still, it was a solid way to bounce back from a week at Augusta National filled with happy memories – and questions of when Immelman could win another major title.
“Playing Augusta is always nerve wracking,” he said. “It’s a very demanding golf course.”
His highlight came at the Masters’ annual champions dinner with Immelman the newest member of one of golf’s most coveted and respected clubs.
He ended tied for 20th, 10 shots behind his successor to the green jacket, Angel Cabrera. Immelman slipped the coat on Cabrera at the tournament’s awards ceremony.
“I was really proud of him,” Immelman said. “It was great to see another international player win.”
Immelman hasn’t won since the Masters. He gave himself a solid chance at Harbour Town Golf Links.
“You’ve got to really be able to move your ball around,” he said. “There’s always been great winners here, great ball strikers who win this tournament.”
Cejka, 38, is seeking his first PGA Tour victory as he continues to rebound from neck surgery last September.
His bogey-free performance was capped by a 47-foot putt for birdie on the difficult, wind-swept 17th hole.
“Just hopefully, everything stays well and I get healthy and practice hard,” he said.
Cejka’s round took off on the back nine with four birdies his last seven holes. He made a 37-footer for birdie on No. 12, then punched from under a tree to 15 feet on the 13th for another birdie. A 15-foot birdie putt came on the par-5 15th before Cejka’s bomb two holes later.
Janzen, who won the U.S. Open in 1993 and 1998, posted his lowest opening round of the season. He had a chip for birdie on his final hole, the 9th, that stopped a foot short of the cup.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson did not tee it up, either. Only six of the world’s top 20 took part.
Ted Purdy and Brian Gay were tied at 67.
Multiple major winners Jose Maria Olazabal and Ernie Els led a group of 11 at 3-under 68, four off the lead.
Boo Weekley’s only two PGA Tour wins have been at Harbour Town the past two years and he dusted off the magic he showed in 2007 and 2008.
Weekley, who chipped in on the 71st and 72nd holes to win here two years ago, did it again, this time from a bunker next to the par-5 second hole for an eagle to move four shots behind Cejka.
However, Weekley couldn’t keep the momentum going and finished with a 69. Still, it was Weekley’s eighth score in the 60s in nine career rounds here.
“I guess I got some kind of karma,” Weekley said.