Immelman comes out of the woods in round 1 at Masters

He made bogeys on six and nine, cancelling out his birdies on one and eight, but Trevor Immelman came roaring back with an eagle and a birdie coming home to finish at three-under in the opening round of the Masters.

The 2008 champion was four shots off the incredible pace set by Rory McIlroy, who got his round off to an incredible start with three consecutive birdies on two, three and four. He birdied nine and 11, and picked up two more on 14 and 15 to take a two-shot lead into the second round at seven-under 65.

Right at the end of the day, Alvaro Quiros of Spain drew level with McIlroy with a round 10 strokes better than he had ever played at Augusta National before.

The Spaniard kept his round on track when he rescued himself from a parlous position on the 14th: His tee shot had gone right into the pine straw, and his second cannoned off a tree deeper into the rough. He managed to chip out sideways and made a good 12-footer for bogey which must have felt like a birdie in the circumstances.

He celebrated by making three birdies in the final four holes, smiling every step of the way.

South Korea’s YE Yang was in a share of third with countryman KJ Choi at five-under-par 67, but he made two consecutive bogeys on 17 and 18 to slip out of a share of the lead.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson made his only bogey of the day on 18 as he carded a two-under 70.

Immelman’s eagle came on the 15th, a hole which gave up a lot of strokes in the opening round: He hit a brave five-wood in on the 485-metre (530-yard) par-five Firethorn over the water.

The ball flirted with the bunker on the right of the green, but caught the slope beautifully to finish six feet from the pin for Immelman to convert.

“From about 10 onward I started feeling a little bit more comfortable and hitting some shots out of the middle,” he said.

He closed out his round with a birdie on 18, getting his approach past the pin and avoiding the difficult read which plagued so many of the other players who had their second shots just short of the pin.

One of those players was Charl Schwartzel, who saw his three-footer for par on 18 lip out.

He still finished at three-under with Immelman, but that bogey on 1q8 was his second on his homeward nine after he dropped a shot on the 10th.

He had just one birdie on his way home – on the 16th – which was a counterweight to his two birdies and an eagle on his way out.

His eagle came on the 521-metre (570-yard) eighth, known as Yellow Jasmine: His high approach from the dip in the middle of the fairway came up a few metres short of the green, and his chip rattled the flagstick on its way in.

“I couldn’t have asked for an easier little chip, and I managed to pull it off,” he said. “I got a lot of momentum out of that shot.”

So a man on his way back from an injury-induced drought – Immelman – and a man who many believe will win his first major soon – Schwartzel – were the best of the South Africans.

Retief Goosen was the next best at two-under, but he had a chance of being so much higher on the leaderboard: He eagled the first, and moved quickly to five-under through eight with three more birdies, but bogeys on 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18 dragged him down, and not even two birdies on that homeward nine were enough to salvage what might have been.

Tim Clark battled the pain in his wrist for one-over, Rory Sabbatini was two-over, and Ernie Els three-over together with Louis Oosthuizen.

Immelman was smiling, however: “My wrist is all the way back,” he grinned. “From about November, December last year, I didn’t have to worry about it as much, and I could go ahead and start practicing stuff I wanted to practice. At that point it just became a matter of me trying to get rid of all the bad habits I got into playing injured.

“So that’s been a process, and it’s been pretty good on the range. And I’ve started taking it better to the course. Every week seems to be getting a little bit better, but I’ve still got a long way to go to get back to where I was,” he added.

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