Trevor Immelman’s return to Augusta National Golf Club has been nothing short of uplifting.Immelman posted a second consecutive four-under-par 68 Friday for a 136 total. At eight-under-par, he leads by one shot over Brandt Snedeker (69-68), with a trio of golfers two strokes further back at 139. They are two-time Champion Phil Mickelson (71-68), Steve Flesch (72-67) and Ian Poulter (70-69).
Flesch’s round of five-under-par 67 is the best round of the tournament. Both he and Mickelson posted bogey-free rounds.
Tiger Woods, the four-time Masters Champion, has been unable to get untracked through two rounds. He’s at 72-71 – 143.
For 36 holes, Immelman has been impeccable. He has his health back and, with it, his substantial golf game.
“To shoot two 68s in the first two days is probably beyond my expectations so I’m pretty thrilled right now,” Immelman said. “I definitely putted well and holed a lot of good putts. I think I got out of it as much as I could. I made some great par saves and then made two good putts there to finish.
Immelman finished birdie-birdie at the 17th and 18th holes.
Immelman tied for 55th last year at the Masters. Despite an illness, he fought hard to finish all 72 holes. He lost 25 pounds over the next three weeks before beginning a recovery. In December, after winning the Nedbank Classic in his native South Africa, he was stricken again. An examination identified a large growth wedged beneath his ribs.
Within eight days, a rare and benign tumor was removed and Immelman began a slow, arduous recovery.
“You kind of go from feeling bullet-proof to lying in a hospital bed wondering if things are going to go your way,” he said. “It made me realize that golf wasn’t my whole life.
“I have a real passion for golf. I put a lot of hours in and made a lot of sacrifices to try and succeed. I’m definitely driven … Whilst it gave me perspective, I still wanted to get back to the form I was showing before it all happened.”
The surgery to remove the tumor was on December 18, 2007 and he was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve. It was two weeks before he could walk, another four weeks before he could chip and putt.
He has demonstrated this week that he’s in excellent form once again.
Mickelson, ranked No. 2 in the world and Masters Champion in 2004 and 2006, is poised to make a run for his third Green Jacket.
“I would love to be in the lead,” Mickelson said. “You always like having shots in hand. But I would have had to kind of press the issue at some spots and I didn’t want to do that yet.”
Flesch is looking for his first major victory. He is not shy about the task at hand.
“When I get to hitting the ball solidly like I did (Friday) and actually (Thursday), I know I can win this Tournament or any tournament,” said Flesch, who made three birdies and an eagle on the par 5 holes.
At the 13th hole, his 5-wood from 237 yards finished two feet from the cup.
“I’ve always been a streaky player,” Flesch said. “Everybody plays on confidence. But I play on a lot of feel and a lot of momentum and a lot of rhythm.”
Flesch has four victories in 11 years on the PGA Tour, two of them coming last year at the Reno-Tahoe Open and the Turning Stone Resort Championship. This is his third Masters with his best finish a tie for 17th in 2004.
Snedeker, 28, is a native of Nashville, TN. He has one PGA Tour victory, at the 2007 Wyndham Championship.
Snedeker made five birdies against a three-putt bogey at the 16th hole, followed by a 40-foot birdie putt at the 17th. Snedeker, who has a solid short game, chipped in from the putting surface for birdie 2 at the sixth hole. He used a lob wedge.
“I grew up on the municipal courses around Nashville and I always had fun getting up-and-down and making putts and doing crazy stuff,” said Snedeker, who saved the round with some very good par putts.
“I felt like I was rolling it great but any time you start making 6-, 8-, 10-footers for par to keep your round going, that’s all the momentum in the world.”