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February 16, 2024

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Immelman one of few to leave Woods in second

AUGUSTA, Ga. – They were together in the Butler Cabin, then on the putting green for the trophy presentation, both times Zach Johnson helping Trevor Immelman get his arms into a green jacket at the Masters.

They now belong to an exclusive club.

Not just because they have access to the upstairs locker room at Augusta National where only champions are allowed. Not just because they will break bread – or whatever Immelman puts on the menu – the Tuesday night before next year’s tournament. And not because Johnson and Immelman have an invitation for life to play in the Masters.

Both turned Tiger Woods into a runner-up.

It was only the fifth time in 45 majors that Woods was been awarded the silver medal, and the second straight year at Augusta.

“What does it take? Part of that was just ignorance,” Johnson said.

He was more worried about a brutally hard golf course than any name on the leaderboard, even if one of those names was Woods. Johnson heard the ground-rattling roar from the 13th and knew Woods had made eagle, but he never looked at a leaderboard until he stood on the 16th tee. Then, he made birdie from 12 feet and hung on for a two-shot victory.

“I just play my game and hopefully make some putts,” he said.

That kind of thinking also worked for Immelman.

Even though Woods started the final round six shots behind, Immelman knew the world’s No. 1 player would be around at the end. The South African looked shaky on the 11th, when he faced a slippery 20-footer for par, and on the 12th, when a tee shot into the pine straw behind the green required two chips to reach the green.

Both times he sank clutch putts – one for par, one for bogey.

“Obviously, it’s just so damn difficult,” Immelman said. “I knew he was going to play well. The guy is probably going to end up being the greatest golfer of all time, so I knew he was going to make a run. And I was just trying to be strong. I was just trying to play my own game, and I was hoping that it was going to be good enough.”

It is easy to find failure when measuring Woods’ back nine at the Masters the last two years.

When he was chasing Johnson last year, Woods failed to convert a 15-foot birdie on the 14th – from about the same spot where Johnson had earlier made birdie – and hit into the water on the 15th going for the green in two. Trying to put pressure on Immelman, Woods missed a 5-foot birdie on the 13th, three-putted for bogey on the 14th and didn’t convert birdie opportunities on the next two holes.

But neither Johnson nor Immelman were handed anything.

Johnson closed with a 69, matching the best score of the final round, and won from the third-to-last group. Immelman faced additional pressure of playing in the final group, sleeping on a one-shot lead. He shot 75, the highest final-round by a Masters champion since Arnold Palmer in 1962, but it is worth noting a couple of things.

The average score Sunday was 74.7, the highest for a final round at the Masters in nine years. And for most of the back nine, Immelman was headed toward the largest margin of victory since Woods in 1997 (a record 12 shots) until a mistake he could afford, hitting his tee shot into the water on the 16th for a double bogey.

So it was a three-shot victory, and it still puts Immelman in some fast company. In the last 10 years, the only players to win by that margin in a major were Woods, Jim Furyk, David Duval and Vijay Singh.

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