AUGUSTA, Ga. Going for his first major championship, Trevor Immelman made it through Amen Corner with a three-stroke lead at the Masters on Sunday.
Tiger Woods was five strokes behind on a windy day at Augusta National, having squandered a chance to get closer when he missed a 5-footer for birdie at No. 13. He followed with a bogey at 14, one of the easiest holes on the course.
Immelman, a 28-year-old South African who idolizes Gary Player and overcame serious health issues in the past year, missed a short one of his own a 3-footer for birdie at No. 7 but made crucial par saves from the bunker at 9 and from the fringe at 11, sinking a 20-foot putt.
After driving onto the pine straw behind the green at 12, the heart of Amen Corner, Immelman felt good about escaping with a bogey. He was 9 under and maintaining a gap on Steve Flesch and playing partner Brandt Snedeker, both at 6 under.
Flesch was steady all that was needed in brutal conditions that made par a good score until he drove into Rae's Creek at the 12th and took double bogey.
Snedeker made an eagle at the second hole, then bogeyed five of the next nine holes. He got himself back in contention by rolling in a 45-footer for birdie at the 12th, knocking two strokes off his deficit to Immelman.
With the wind gusting up to 30 mph, Immelman made his first birdie with a brilliant second shot at No. 5, sticking his approach to 4 feet. He pulled off another pinpoint iron two holes later to give himself a 3-footer for birdie, but missed that one.
That seemed to shake Immelman. He took a bogey at the par-5 eighth and knocked his second shot at No. 9 into a bunker in front of the green. But he got up-and-down from par, pumping his fist as he went to retrieve the ball, having shot 1-over 37 on the front side.
Snedeker drew the first big cheer of the day when he made a 35-foot eagle putt at the second hole, pulling into a tie with the South African. But the 27-year-old Tennessean couldn't keep it up, driving into the face of a bunker at No. 4 to set the tone for a tough stretch of golf.
He made the turn with a 39.
The 28-year-old Immelman went for the green jacket four months to the day of being diagnosed with a growth on his diaphragm. He underwent surgery on Dec. 18, and the tumor turned out to be benign.
He also was stricken with a stomach parasite during last year's Masters, causing him to lose 20 pounds and knocking him off the tour for a month.
Immelman got off to a shaky start, knocking his very first shot into the trees and needing a testy 5-footer just to salvage bogey.
Immelman shot in the 60s each of his first three rounds and was trying to become the first Masters winner to do it all four rounds, though that was out of reach with the wind whipping across the course, rustling the towering pines and rattling the flagsticks.
Miguel Angel Jimenez somehow put up a 4-under 68, but no one figured to approach that score in the afternoon.
England's Paul Casey, who started the day four strokes back, fell from contention with a devastating stretch.
He double-bogeyed the fourth and bogeyed the fifth, then had to call a one-stroke penalty on himself at the sixth when his ball moved as he prepared to putt, leading to another bogey. Clearly shaken, he bogeyed the next two holes as well and made the turn with a 41.
As for Woods, he parred the first three holes, then drove into a bunker at the par-3 fourth and lipped out a 3 1/2-footer to save par. He did rebound with his first birdie at No. 6, but another dip in the sand led to a bogey at No. 10.
Woods has 13 major titles, but all of them came while he at least held a share of the lead going into the final round. Only two players Jackie Burke, who was eight shots down in 1956, and Gary Player, who rallied from a seven-shot deficit in '78 have overcome larger final-round deficits to win the Masters.