What I'll remember: Immelman's road back to the PGA TOURNovember 29, 2013
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
The easy-to-recognize faces around Sycamore Hills Country Club could have passed for a typical Monday at any regular PGA TOUR stop – Chris DiMarco, Sean O’Hair, Heath Slocum, Tim Petrovic, Scott McCarron.
Officially, though, the Hotel Fitness Championship was classified as a Web.com Tour event. And no one was really quite sure what to make of the new Web.com Tour Finals.
That included the only major champion in the field – a pensive Trevor Immelman, whose long road back from a wrist injury had taken him to the end of his five-year exemption for winning the 2008 Masters.
“I’m still only 33,” the South African said resolutely after a long putting session. “My goal is still to get back to playing with the best. If you had a camera follow me around 24 hours a day, you’d see the effort I put into staying healthy.
“Hopefully it’s just a matter of time before I start putting four rounds together again.”
A 67-66 start on Sycamore Hills’ generous fairways gave Immelman a share of the 36-hole lead – the first time he’d been atop the leaderboard since opening day of the 2011 Greenbrier Classic. A Saturday 69, though, left him five shots behind Patrick Cantlay with one round left.
Immelman turned up the heat with an eagle at the par-5 second hole, followed by back-to-back birdies at Nos. 5 and 6. Cantlay, himself battling a balky back, stumbled with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch around the turn.
Playing 30 minutes ahead of Cantlay, Immelman watched his 9-iron approach at No.18 come to rest 12 feet from the pin. A small crest rose between his ball and the hole, but he found the precise line for a closing birdie.
“By the time it got to the hole, it was right in the middle,” Immelman said.
Then it was a matter of waiting out Cantlay, who had settled down and needed a birdie in his final three holes to catch Immelman. None came, though, watching an 8-foot attempt slide past at No. 18 that would have forced a playoff.
“No doubt, this is huge for me,” said Immelman, who acknowledged he needed a day or two before coming to Fort Wayne to come to grips with losing his exemption.
“My wife and kids are probably the only ones who truly understand,” he said. “They’ve had to deal with me being frustrated and irritable quite a few times over the last few years.
“Obviously anybody who loses a job – it’s not a nice situation for any human being to be in. Naturally there are concerns. But the interesting part about it was that I’d actually started playing better in the last few months. I was seeing so many nice signs.”
The pieces finally fell in place at Sycamore Hills. So, too, did Immelman’s triumph provide the Finals with an opening splash it couldn’t have scripted much better.
“None of us were really sure what to expect,” Immelman said, “but this has been fantastic.”