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Trevor Immelman celebrates on No. 18 with caddie Neil Wallace during the final round of the Masters. Immelman won the championship with an 8-under par.
Trevor Immelman celebrates on No. 18 with caddie Neil Wallace during the final round of the Masters. Immelman won the championship with an 8-under par.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There they were, a couple of 20-somethings, smack-dab in the middle of the biggest stage in golf, with the eyes of thousands in person at Augusta National, millions more watching on TV. All in all, a pretty stiff test even for young nerves.

Ultimately, one -- Brandt Snedeker, 27 -- could not handle that pressure. And one -- Trevor Immelman, your 2008 Masters champion at the ripe old age of 28 -- could.

Given his track record, we should've seen it coming.

As Sunday's conditions at Augusta National turned brutal and the shadow of Tiger Woods loomed three holes ahead, the youthful South African stared down the worst a Masters experience could throw at him. Even Snedeker, later reduced to tears by his own failure, regarded his conqueror with unabashed admiration.

"His resolve, I guess is the best way to put it, was phenomenal," the former Vanderbilt All-American said. "He definitely had some chances where he could've buckled today."

Instead, at the end of Sunday's play, Immelman stood atop the golfing world. He shot an almost-nerveless 3-over-par 75, made to look so-so by a double bogey at the 16th hole -- a "hiccup" that came too late to derail his march to victory.

He shot 8-under for 72 holes to finish three shots clear of Woods and four ahead of Snedeker and Stewart Cink. His life as a professional athlete changed forever, though Immelman couldn't quite grasp it.

"I have no idea. I'm sure it will be good, though," he said in massive understatement.

"You know, I'm going to try to take it in my stride. I'm going to try and do all the right things, and I'm going to try and be a great role model to young kids out there ... and, you know, that's all I can do."

That ought to be plenty, given his track record.

Pressure? A year ago, Immelman's Masters accomplishment was playing four rounds with an intestinal parasite. Last December, he was in a South African hospital having a tumor removed from his diaphragm.

Pressure? He was weaned on golf and the Masters from the age of 5, had his home country's three-time Masters champion, Gary Player, as a lifelong mentor, and had seen two other countrymen, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, come to grief on Augusta National's obstacle course.

"This tournament is such a big deal down in South Africa," Immelman said. "We grow up idolizing this event; kids dream about winning this tournament, just as I did."

Under those expectations, a player either fades into the background or excels. This day, Immelman excelled -- just long enough.

"He's a disciplined-type player," said Cink, who has faced Immelman in Presidents Cup matches a handful of times. "A lot of people probably think, wow, Trevor Immelman, he's never been in this position before. ... (But) he knows how to finish tournaments and win, and I think he's proven it today."

Starting two shots ahead of Snedeker -- and six ahead of the ominous Woods -- Immelman slipped early, a bogey at the first hole that, combined with Snedeker's electrifying eagle at No. 2, created a tie. It didn't last long; Snedeker bogeyed three of his next five holes to trail by four at the turn.

Up ahead, Steve Flesch pulled within two shots with a birdie at No. 8. But the lefthander double-bogeyed No. 12, drowning his tee shot at the par-3, and collapsed with four bogeys in a row.

Yet while his lead never shrank below three shots on the back nine, Immelman didn't play pressure-free. Twice, situations threatened to derail his round; each time, he rose to the challenge while others did not.

At the par-4 11th, Immelman was short of the green in two shots, and his chip hung up in the fringe, while up ahead, Woods, who had birdied No. 11, had a birdie putt at No. 13: a potential two-shot (or more) swing.

But Woods astonishingly missed his 3-footer, and Immelman drained his tricky par-saver. His lead remained untouched.

Next came what Snedeker, whose birdie at No. 12 while Immelman was making bogey cut the lead to three shots, called "the pivotal hole." A poor drive by Immelman forced him to lay up on the par-5 13th; Snedeker faced a 200-yard shot to the green and a chance to cut the deficit to ... who knows?

But Snedeker, for the second straight day, dumped his 4-iron approach into Rae's Creek and made bogey. Immelman's third shot spun back into birdie range, and his lead was five shots.

When Woods failed to make birdies at 13 or 15 and bogeyed 14, and Snedeker bogeyed 14 while Immelman saved par, the lead was six, and Immelman's wet double bogey at the par-3 16th didn't faze him. "I figured I could four-putt (18) and win," he said.

"Until 16 he was, what, 1-over for the day, one of the best rounds of the day," Snedeker said. "I was very impressed. I've played with very few golfers who can manage their emotions, manage their swing and manage the golf course that well."

As the first player under 30 not named Woods to win a Masters since Tom Watson in 1977, Immelman might have signaled a changing of the guard. For one player, at least, it was just that.

"Obviously this is a tremendous confidence boost," he said, "and now that I've got one (major) under my belt ... I'm definitely not going to sit back and say, OK, that's me, I'm done.

"I'm going to keep working hard and trying to make the most of what I've been given."

Given? This day, when others gave away, Immelman took charge.

Leaderboard

Trevor Immelman68-68-69-75--280Tiger Woods72-71-68-72--283Stewart Cink72-69-71-72--284Brandt Snedeker 69-68-70-77--284Phil Mickelson71-68-75-72--286Padraig Harrington74-71-69-72--286Steve Flesch72-67-69-78--286Miguel Angel Jimenez77-70-72-68--287Robert Karlsson70-73-71-73--287Andres Romero72-72-70-73--287

INSIDE

• Snedeker breaks down on final day • 4B

• Results • 6B

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