AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When Tiger Woods holed about a 50-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole Sunday, pulling within five of Trevor Immelman, for me it felt a bit like it did a couple of weeks ago when North Carolina, my alma mater, had cut a 28-point deficit to Kansas in the Final Four to four points. There was simply too much ground to make up, and it had been too much of a struggle just to get to that point. Kansas reasserted itself and won going away over the Tar Heels, just as Immelman did over Woods and the rest of the pack at a testy, breezy Augusta National GC.
Other than Woods, nobody in his 20s had won the Masters since Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994. It was time for another young player to claim a green jacket, and Immelman, withstanding a couple of very shaky moments late, was up to the task. Despite a cacophony of Grand Slam talk about Woods, his ultimate golf dream was wilted by four frustrating days, particularly with the putter. Woods putts so well so often that when he looks human on the greens, as he did on several failures inside eight feet Sunday, it's a shock.
It's also golf. Woods' long-term lease on success is so formidable that a bad day can reinforce how much of a thick-steel lock he often is when he is in contention.
Woods' 2008 Grand Slam hopes have been extinguished, but you can bet he will show up at Torrey Pines ready to roll in the U.S. Open. For the moment, all credit should go to Immelman, who has come back from some health issues and was resilient when he had to be. In the mold of his countryman-idol Gary Player, Immelman is a scrapper, perhaps ready to be to Woods what Player was to Jack Nicklaus. Sunday was a giant step on what could be a great journey.