Immelman is the master as Woods runs out of steam

As Trevor Immelman was denying Tiger Woods and being fitted with South Africa's first Green Jacket in three decades here last night, Paul Casey was reflecting on a Masters dream that had turned into the grisliest of golfing nightmares. A final round that had started with such hope for the Englishman, finished in abject misery as he slumped to a 79.

It was no consolation that he was not alone in his torture; Casey was the victim who shed the most blood in an Augusta shootout that was positively X-rated. High winds made what is always a severe test that much more demanding. Incredibly no one in the last 11 groups managed to break par, not even Woods. This truly was a case of last man standing.

That man was Immelman, who so thoroughly deserved his first major. In winning by three shots from Woods, the 28-year-old became the first player to lead on all four days since Raymond Floyd in 1976 and the first Masters champion from his country since his hero Gary Player in 1978 and just the second in history. "What an honour," said Immelman after his 75 for an eight-under total. "This is what I've always wanted and worked for."

The anticipated charge of Woods ran out of steam before it really got motoring. There was one moment of magic when he holed an 80-footer up the 11th green, but that transpired to be an illusion. A 72 was never going to be good enough to overhaul an overnight six-shot deficit. So much for the Grand Slam. Next year maybe. "I just didn't make any putts all week," he said.

"I hit the ball well enough to put pressure on Trevor, but if you're not starting the ball on line out here you're not going to make anything." And so one of golf's oddest curiosities goes on.

Woods has yet to win a major when trailing after 54 holes; all 13 have been earned when in the lead or tied for the lead going into the final round. The putting is one thing, but, in truth, the entirety of the world No 1's game in this tournament has been put in the shade by Immelman. This has been one of the great driving performances while his putting, at times shaky, was inspired when it was most necessary. This was plainly on the 11th.

At that stage, Woods had just hit a wedge to within five feet at the 13th and as Immelman lined up a 15-footer just off the green for par the tension descended. The putt slipped in and the little punch from the Cape crusader said it all. He went to the 13th in the knowledge that now those dreaded viccissitudes of time and Amen Corner were his principle enemies. It was no contest on both counts

He bogeyed the 12th, but nervelessly birdied the 13th when flying his wedge over the water to within three feet. With his other closest rivals, the Americans Brandt Snedeker and Steve Flesch taking bogeys, he was five clear and, barring doing a "Van de Velde", his glory was all but confirmed. He had earned himself the right to take a few bogeys, but the double on the 16th when finding the water was not about to impact on his joy. Where he was four months ago and where he is now, is one of sport's most blessed contrasts.

A week after winning in Sun City in December, he was playing at the South Africa Open when the discomfort he felt around his ribcage suddenly made it difficult to breathe. He withdrew and was rushed to hospital the next day where emergency surgery revealed a tumour the size of a golf ball on his diaphragm. Then came the waiting as tests were undertaken.

"It took a couple of days to get the results back, so that was pretty hair-raising, but luckily enough it was all benign and it was removed," he recalled. "You kind of go from feeling bullet-proof to lying in a hospital bed wondering if things are going to go your way." Things have gone his way, all right, even when the opponents started to gang up at the opening of yesterday's enthralling finale.

Casey was one of the first to rise when birdieing the third and as that four-footer rolled in, the prospects of Britain's first Masters triumph in 12 years improved suddenly and thrillingly. The 30-year was at eight-under and within two. Then began the horror show.

It started with a double bogey at the fourth, where Casey left his ball in a greenside bunker, and was compounded by bogeys at the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. Casey had dropped a card-wrecking six shots in the space of five holes, although it was what occurred on the par-three sixth that had him spitting with most disgust.

As he was about to putt his three-footer for par, his ball moved fractionally due to the high winds. As Casey had already grounded the club, the penalty was a stroke. Obviously, it was not his fault, but that injustice means nought in golf. Especially in the Masters on a Sunday when the conditions are conspiring to turn golfing heaven into golfing hell. On Saturday he went out in 32. Yesterday the number was 41. Ouch.

In the event, Casey did rather well to limit the damage to just a couple more dropped shots. His collapse allowed the Open champion Padraig Harrington to steal in for the leading European honours at two-under and in a tie for fifth.

Yet despite Casey's wretched ending and indeed the poor finishes of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, there was still plenty for the European Tour to celebrate.

Immelman began his professional career on the European Challenge Tour and spent two very productive years on the main tour before shifting to Stateside. The British professionals regard Immelman as one of their own and his victory should confirm what is possible.

When leaving the course on Saturday, Ernie Els phoned Immelman to wish his young compatriot luck. The Big Easy's advice was to stay patient, a mantra Immelman repeated to himself continually.

He now has possession of something that Ernie doesn't – the most cherished garment in golf.

Final-round scores

(US unless stated)

280 T Immelman (SA) 68 68 69 75

283 T Woods 72 71 68 72

284 S Cink 72 69 71 72

B Snedeker 69 68 70 77

286 P Harrington (Ire) 74 71 69 72, S Flesch 72 67 69 78

P Mickelson 71 68 75 72

287 A Romero (Arg) 72 72 70 73; R Karlsson (Swe) 70 73 71 73; M A Jimenez (Sp) 77 70 72 68

288 L Westwood (Eng) 69 73 73 73; N Watney 75 70 72 71, P Casey (Eng) 71 69 69 79

289 S O'Hair 72 71 71 75; V Singh (Fiji) 72 71 72 74; S Appleby (Aus) 76 70 72 71

290 R Goosen (SA) 71 71 72 76; M Weir (Can) 73 68 75 74; H Stenson (Swe) 74 72 72 72

291 B Watson 74 71 73 73; J Leonard 72 74 72 73; B Bateman 69 76 72 74; Z Johnson 70 76 68 77; B Weekley 72 74 72 73

292 I Poulter (Eng) 70 69 75 78; A Oberholser 71 70 74 77; JB Holmes 73 70 73 76; A Scott (Aus) 75 71 70 76; A Cabrera (Arg) 73 72 73 74; R Sterne (SA) 73 72 73 74; S Ames (Can) 70 70 77 75; J M Singh (Ind) 71 74 72 75

293 J Furyk 70 73 73 77; H Slocum 71 76 77 69; N Dougherty (Eng) 74 69 74 76

295 J Rose (Eng) 68 78 73 76; T Hamilton 74 73 75 73; J Wagner 72 74 74 75

296 N Fasth (Swe) 75 70 76 75; G Ogilvy (Aus) 75 71 76 74

298 KJ Choi (S Kor) 72 75 78 73

299 R Allenby (Aus) 72 74 72 81; D Toms 73 74 72 80

300 I Woosnam (Wal) 75 71 76 78

302 S Lyle (Sco) 72 75 78 77

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