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Immelman works to recover with Masters in mind

Friday, April 01, 2011

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Trevor Immelman feels so at home at Augusta National Golf Club that he could play the Masters Tournament with one hand tied behind his back.

Good thing, because he pretty much has been forced to do just that since winning his green jacket in 2008.

Despite a bum left wrist that precipitated a fall from a high of 12th to 284th in the world rankings, Immelman remains a relevant force in the Masters. He finished tied for 20th and 14th in his past two Augusta trips in spite of all the pain and suffering caused by a lifetime of wear-and-tear on his wrist.

"No doubt it's extremely frustrating," Immelman said. "But you've got to do what you've got to do. This will be the first time I've played it full strength healthwise (since 2008), no doubt about it. I'm looking forward to it."

After spending months exploring every nonsurgical option to relieve his wrist pain, Immelman finally opted to have surgery in the fall of 2009 to clean up cartilage, scrape away bone and repair the tendon in his wrist. He sat around for four months before rushing himself back into action to get ready for another Masters last year.

That insistence on not skipping a Masters and compensating for the pain brought a whole host of demons into his swing that have detoured his career trajectory. While he performed admirably again at Augusta last year, the rest of his season was pretty much a wash as he missed cuts in nine of his last 12 starts before shutting things down for the offseason.

Now that he feels healthy for the first time since 2008, he can stop counting balls on the range and limiting his practice time to an hour, and fully concentrate on addressing his flaws.

"Toward the end of the season I started to get to the point where I didn't have to think about it as much," he said of his wrist, which requires regular rehab and icing. "The thing is now to make sure I can work on the stuff that I used to and get my swing back to where it used to be. Now that the wrist is healthy I can start doing that."

Before the start of 2011, Immelman said he felt "like a rookie again" and was eager to regain his place among the game's elite. Despite a series of health setbacks throughout his career, Immelman said he's never lost faith in his ability to compete with the best in the world.

"There has never been a panic at any point, you know, because I am still only 31 and feel like my best stuff is ahead of me," he said. "It has been hard for me to sustain consistent form because I've had the health issues. But hopefully I've got all of that behind me and I can work forward now."

While he plans on playing about 28 events in 2011, it is still the Masters that has his fullest attention and inspires his recovery. His driving goal through the first months of the season was to find some semblance of his old game by April.

"I want to get going and be in the swing of things by the time Augusta rolls around, because I love Augusta National, I know the golf course really well, and I am probably my most comfortable on that golf course," he said. "I would like to be in the best possible shape going into that week. I definitely feel like if things are going my way, I have got a chance around there.

''That's going to be the goal of the rest of my career, to make sure I am ready come April."

Does he believe he has the comfort level and game to join fellow South African Gary Player as one of the 16 multiple Masters winners?

"That's the ideal scenario," he said. "But you've got to take care of a lot of stuff first before that can happen. Just take it one step at a time."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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