April 12, 2008

Sunday's Winners And Losers

Golf World's John Antonini analyzes fourth round Masters action and tells you who came out on top and who didn't

Winners

Trevor Immelman

Remember the PGA Tour commerical for the FedEx Cup playoffs a year ago where Immelman was standing in front of a bathroom mirror pretending to interview himself (using his hairbrush as a microphone) about winning the inaugural PGA Tour Playoffs when Vijay Singh walked into the room and interrupted him? Do you think that really happened? Or was the kid who has every major championship since 1984 on tape really more interested in winning the Masters? I think we know the answer to that, and, though it wasn't easy, Immelman managed to do countrymen Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark and Rory Sabbatini one better. The four South Africans had finished second in the Masters in recent years, but Immelman's three-over 75 Sunday helped him hold off Tiger Woods by three strokes with an eight-under 280.

It was an unexpectedly impressive week for Immelman, who had finished no better than T-17 on tour in 2008 -- which is a bit misleading as that was by virtue of a second-round loss to Henrik Stenson in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Immelman had a few hiccups in the middle of Sunday's front nine, missing a short birdie putt on the par-4 seventh and making an almost unforgiveable bogey -- for a final-round leader, anyway -- on a par-5 hole, the eighth.

It was near the end of his round that the championship almost unraveled. He had a five-shot lead over Snedeker at the 16th tee (six shots over Woods) and hit his tee ball into the water. But if there is ever a good time to make a double bogey, it's when you have a five-shot advantage over a player who has made eight bogeys in his first 15 holes. The double bogey dropped Immelman to eight under and he went to the 17th hole with a three-shot lead (over Woods, who had simultaneously birdied the 18th), where he promptly hit his tee ball into the right rough and left his approach in a greenside bunker. Of course, if there's ever a good time to hit a ball in a bunker on the 71st hole of a tournament, it's when you have a three-stroke lead. Immelman saved par with a tremendous blast to four feet and kept his lead intact heading to the last hole.

The drama wasn't over. Still being tested at the last, he hit his drive into a divot in the middle of the fairway. No worries, though -- Immemlan hit a clean approach onto the green and two-putted for par and the win. So you can pardon the 28-year-old Cape Town native if his expression when his final putt dropped was more of relief than of exultation.

You do have a reason to celebrate, Trevor. You were 149th in FedEx Cup points entering the week, but now you're eligible for the PGA Tour playoffs. Maybe that commercial dream will come true, too.

Miguel Angel Jiménez

Playing early, before the wind kicked into high gear, the Spaniard shot a four-under 68 to climb from T-35 to T-8 and earn an invitation to the 2009 Masters. The top 16 players, plus ties, will return to Augusta National next April.

Nick Watney

The 26-year-old Sacramento native only appeared on television once Sunday -- a taped replay of his hole-out from the fairway on the 14th hole for an eagle-2. Watney finished with a 71 Sunday to climb to T-11 and, like Jiménez, will return to Augusta in 2009.

Gary Player

Before he left for a business engagement in the Middle East, Player was nothing but effusive in his praise for Trevor Immelman. "His swing is absolutely the closest that I have seen to Ben Hogan," said Player. "And I've always thought that Ben Hogan was the best striker of the ball from tee to green that I ever saw." A long-time friend of the Immelman family, Player first met the new Masters Champion when Trevor was five years old. You know that when Immelman donned the green jacket, Player was brimming with pride.

Losers

Paul Casey

After getting to eight under with a birdie on No. 3, Casey made double-bogey on the par-3 fourth and disappeared from television coverage with consecutive bogeys on Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8. He righted the ship with a par on the ninth to close out his front nine with a five-over 41, pushing him eight strokes back of Immelman. He shot a seven-over 79 and ended up T-11 at even-par 288.

Steve Flesch

After playing consistent golf through the first 11 holes, Flesch, two shots off the lead, hit his tee ball into Rae's Creek on No. 12 and made double bogey to fall four shots back of Immelman. It was an ominous splashdown as nobody has won the tournament after hitting a ball into the creek Sunday since Sandy Lyle in 1988 and it led to a horrid back nine. Flesch bogeyed the 14th hole, too, displaying some anger after a bad approach. And 15. And 16. And 17. He eventually made par on 18 to finish with a six-over 78, in a tie for fifth at two-under 286. Still, the 40-year-old lefthander -- who hadn't played the Masters since 2005 -- had his best-ever finish in a major, a T-7 at the 2004 U.S. Open being his only other top-10.

Brandt Snedeker

The Vanderbilt grad bogeyed the first hole, then made eagle on the second, making us think he might not be overmatched by playing in the final group on the final day of his first Masters as a professional. But he made five bogeys and four pars on his next nine holes and found himself five strokes back of playing partner Immelman. He would birdie the 12th hole, but just as he did a day earlier, Snedeker hit his second shot on 13 into the creek, destroying any chance he had to pull off the comeback win. He ended up with a 77 and finished tied for third at four-under 284.

Tiger Woods

There will be no Grand Slam in 2008 (unless you think Immelman can win the U.S. Open, the British Open and PGA Championship), but Woods had many thinking, even to the end, that a Masters victory was possible. But world No. 1 never made any putts. Three bogeys and three birdies in a final-round 72 were enough to get him to second place for the second straight year. What's even harder to believe: Tiger has just one win at the Masters in the last six years.