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Masters 2008


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Woods won the last of his four Masters titles in 2005


Woods targets fifth Masters title


Tiger Woods will take aim at an historic Grand Slam when the first round of the 72nd Masters begins at Augusta, Georgia, on Thursday.


The world number one goes into the year's first major in dominant form with seven wins in eight events.


Woods, 32, is also chasing a fifth Masters title but world number two Phil Mickelson has won two of the last four. Europe's charge will be led by Open champion Padraig Harrington and world number nine Justin Rose.


Irishman Harrington finished seventh last year at Augusta, while Rose trailed by one shot with two holes to play before a double-bogey on the 17th saw him slip to fifth. The Englishman went on to finish no worse than 12th in the year's four majors.


American Zach Johnson held off Woods and South Africans Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini to win his maiden major 12 months ago, but Woods is the overwhelming favourite - generally priced around 11/10 - to add to his tally of 13 major titles.


The American, who tees off at 1545 BST with Argentine Angel Cabrera and Australia's Stuart Appleby, is chasing Jack Nicklaus's mark of 18 major titles.


Nicklaus also won six Masters Green Jackets, the last of which he claimed at the age of 46 in 1986.


Woods has previously held all four majors at the same time - dubbed the Tiger Slam - when he clinched the Open, US Open and the USPGA in 2000 and the Masters the following year.


But no player in the modern professional era has won all four majors in the same calendar year, known as the Grand Slam.


"I think this is my 12th or 13th season and in nine of those years I've won five or more tournaments, so just got to win the right four," said Woods.



How you're perceived heading into the tournament really doesn't matter - Phil Mickelson


Mickelson, who struggled with his health over the winter, dismissed claims that the 93 other players in the field were chasing second place.


The left-hander has finished no higher than 20th on the PGA Tour since winning in Los Angeles in February, but he is hoping to add to the Green Jackets he won in 2004 and 2006.


"I don't think it really matters if you're favoured or not, or what people expect," Mickelson said. "I think how you're perceived heading into the tournament really doesn't matter."



Player (left) will make a record 51st appearance at the Masters


World number three Ernie Els of South Africa also goes into the Masters with a victory under his belt already this season - the Honda Classic in February. But the two-time Masters runner-up (2000 and 2004) admits that the Grand Slam is within Woods's grasp.


"You know, I'd like to bet against him, like the whole field this week, but it's definitely in his reach," said Els, who has split with long-time coach David Leadbetter in favour of Woods's ex swing teacher Butch Harmon.


"I don't think we've seen a player like him ever. He's really one of a kind, and that's saying a lot."


The last European to win the Masters was Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 but there are high hopes for the likes of Harrington, Rose, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.


England's Casey has enjoyed two top-10 finishes in three attempts at Augusta, while his rejuvenated countryman Westwood is in a rich vein of form following four top fives so far this season.


Englishman Donald, the world number 16, tied for 10th at the Masters 12 months ago and was third in 2005.


Spain's Sergio Garcia is still licking his wounds after missing out to Harrington in a play-off for the Open at Carnoustie last July, and his recent record at Augusta has been poor following a fourth-place finish in 2004.


The rest of the world's challenge will be spearheaded by Els and Australia's Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 US champion, who recently ended Woods's winning streak to claim the WGC-CA Championship.


Americans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, South Korea's KJ Choi, Australian Adam Scott and Sweden's Henrik Stenson are also lively contenders.


The first round will get under way at 1300 BST following the traditional opening drive from honorary starter Arnold Palmer.


The 78-year-old four-time Masters champion quit playing in the event after 2004, but the American's contemporary Gary Player, 72, will break his record of 50 appearances at Augusta this year.


"I am thrilled to be breaking my record, Arnold Palmer's record. We both had that record and I think that's really the motive in the back of my mind," said the South African.


"If I can walk around here like an athlete, which I can, and I can play reasonably well, then I'd like to keep playing.


"Last year I finished with a 77 when the course was definitely the toughest that it ever was in the history of the tournament. That was really exciting for me."



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Immelman maintains Masters lead




South Africa's Trevor Immelman carded a second straight 68 to retain his overnight lead on a warm, breezy day two of the 72nd Masters at Augusta.


The 28-year-old fired five birdies and a bogey to climb to eight under, one clear of American Brandt Snedeker (68). Steve Flesch, Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter ended five under with Paul Casey and Stephen Ames four under.


Tiger Woods shot 71 to edge back to one under, while co-overnight leader Justin Rose collapsed to 78 for two over.


Rose, 27, ran up a triple-bogey eight at the par-five 15th after finding water.


World number one Woods, who is chasing a fifth Masters title and a 14th major in all, said: "It was quite a fight to try to figure out what was going on with the wind.


"When it died on 14 it made things a lot easier. I've got to make a few more birdies, eliminate the mistakes and stay patient. Anything can happen and anyone can come back pretty quickly here."


Americans Stewart Cink (69) and Arron Oberholser (70) and champion 2003 champion Mike Weir (70) of Canada ended three under with two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen (71) and England's Lee Westwood (73) on two under.


Immelman, the 2006 PGA Rookie of the Year, returned to competition in January just six weeks after surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumour from his diaphragm.


"I realised that it can be taken away from you real fast," said Immelman, who also missed part of 2007 with a stomach parasite.


"I feel like I've been loaned a talent. I'm trying to do as well as I can.


"To shoot 68 the first two days is probably beyond my expectations. So I'm pretty thrilled right now."


The forecast for Saturday is heavy rain and possible storms and Immelman admitted he was relieved to post a competitive score.


"The course is going to show its teeth," he said. "You've got to make some good scores while you can."


Flesch shot a 67, the lowest round of the tournament so far, Poulter added a 69 to his opening 70, while two-time champion Mickelson picked up four shots in a 68.


Poulter, whose highest major finish is ninth at the 2006 USPGA, said: "Playing the way I am, I am feeling pretty confident.


"I've played really solid, holed the right putts at the right time and you have to have a little bit of luck, as I did at the 16th on Thursday."


Mickelson added: "I thought I played very well the first two days. I'm not disappointed. I gave myself a lot of easy pars, but I'm not leading so I've got some work to do."


England's Casey also shot a three-under 69, while countryman Lee Westwood remained in touch with a 73 for two under despite a double bogey at the par-five 13th.


Making it four Englishmen in the top 15 was debutant Nick Dougherty, who fired four birdies in his last six holes to add a 69 to his opening 74 for one under alongside Fiji's Vijay Singh and American Jim Furyk.


"I was rewarded for my patience. It's just having the discipline to maintain that state of mind in a major and I'm pleased I showed that," said Liverpudlian Dougherty.


The cut fell at three over, meaning the likes of Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Fred Couples and Jose Maria Olazabal all missed out on the weekend.


But Open champion Padraig Harrington made it on one over, while 50-year-old former champions Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle also squeezed in at two and three over respectively.


Woosnam, the 1991 champion, made his first cut in the Masters since 2000, a year after he feared he might never play in the event again because of back and health problems.


"It's nice being a senior - you just hit the ball and don't get nervous," said the former European Ryder Cup captain.


"I'm really, really happy. I keep getting spasms, but as I get going I get better."



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Immelman leads by two in Masters




South African Trevor Immelman will resume his quest for a first major title with a two-shot lead going into Sunday's final round of the Masters.


The 28-year-old would become the first start-to-finish winner since Raymond Floyd in 1976 but has four-time champion Tiger Woods looming large.


Immelman shot 69 for 11 under ahead of Brandt Snedeker, with Steve Flesch eight under and Paul Casey one back.


Woods made the biggest move on a damp day with a 68 for five under.


It was the American's best score at Augusta since a 65 in the third round in 2005.


Woods, who was seven shots off the pace overnight, is chasing a 14th major title and the first leg of a possible Grand Slam of all four majors in one year.


The world number one has yet to win a major when coming from behind on the last day, but in his favour is the fact that none of the four players ahead of him have won a major.


"I've put myself right back in the tournament. A 68 was about as high as I could go - I hit the ball really well and had so many putts that skirted the hole," said the 32-year-old.


"Conditions are supposed to be blustery tomorrow and it does not take much to make a high number out there. You've just got to hang in there."


Immelman, who had a cancer scare just four months ago, led after the opening two rounds but slipped back early on to hand Snedeker the advantage before firing a birdie on the 8th and then another at 13 to establish a two-shot cushion.


Another birdie at 14, as Snedeker and Casey fell away, gave Immelman a lead of three at 10 under.


He was fortunate to escape with a par when his ball narrowly missed the water on 15, but he signed off with a birdie to match Snedeker, who hit back with three birdies in his last five holes to set up Sunday's finale.


"All I can do is go out tomorrow and play as hard as I can and just believe in myself," said Cape Town's Immelman.


Snedeker, who last year followed Immelman as PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, said: "I knew I was hitting it great and I hoped to just give myself a chance, which I did when I came back with three birdies."


American journeyman Flesch, 40, enjoyed a brief spell in front on the way to carding a 69, while Casey dipped in and out of the lead after firing four birdies on the front nine to get to eight under.


After the turn the Englishman twice dropped back to seven under, but each time made amends before a final bogey on 17 took him to a 69.


"I'm happy with that but I need to go even lower tomorrow," said the 30-year-old.


"There is something about this occasion and no doubt the golf course suits me down to the ground.


"It's a place that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and the only other place that does that to me is St Andrews.


"It's going to be difficult but I can't worry about anyone else. Patience and not forcing it is going to be the key."


American Ryder Cup player Stewart Cink ended four under after a 71 for sixth place on his own.


Back on two under was a logjam of players including two-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, the world number two, and England's Ian Poulter (75), who both started the day tied for third on five under but fell back with rounds of 75.


Also in the group on two under were defending champion Zach Johnson (68), Open champion Padraig Harrington (69) and double US Open champion Retief Goosen (72).


Harrington revealed that he had not given up hope and was pleased that stronger winds and chilly conditions have been forecast for Sunday's final round.


"I think anybody who is chasing would like a windy day because it makes things awkward," he said.


"Yes, my eye is on the leaders. If I get the breaks, so be it."


But the final round is likely to come down to a shoot-out between the top five. And even then, Woods will have to make up a six-shot deficit.



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Immelman is Masters champion




South African Trevor Immelman secured a maiden major title with a three-shot victory in the 72nd Masters at Augusta.


The 28-year-old, who had surgery in December to remove a tumour, held his nerve to become the first wire-to-wire winner since Ray Floyd in 1976.


The anticipated charge from the likes of Tiger Woods did not materialise as Immelman shot a 75 to end eight under.


Woods climbed from fifth to second with a level-par 72 but will rue his missed chances as Immelman stumbled late on.


Immelman, who led by two overnight, double-bogeyed the short 16th after finding water off the tee when leading by five.


But he got up and down from a greenside bunker on 17 for a nerve-settling par and holed out for par on the last to become the second South African to win the Masters and the first since his hero Gary Player claimed the last of his three Green Jackets in 1978.


"It was just so tough - there was a disaster around every corner as I showed on 16, but I just hung in there," said Immelman, whose previous best at Augusta was tied fifth in 2005.


"Gary Player has been onto me all week, telling me that I could do it and I'm glad that I pulled through for him."


The 32-year-old Woods, the world number one, was six shots adrift overnight but still within touching distance of adding to his four Masters titles and 13 majors in all.


But despite overhauling three of the four men in front of him on Sunday morning, Woods's only real suggestion of a move came with a monster putt for birdie on the 11th.


Immelman's victory continues Woods's run of never having won a major when coming from behind going into the final day, and it ends the American's hopes of a Grand Slam of all four majors this year.


"I figured if I played the last seven holes three under I might be in it but I just didn't make any putts all week," said Woods, who last won in 2005 and has since finished third, second and second.


"I hit the ball well enough to contend but I didn't put enough pressure on Trevor."


American Brandt Snedeker, who was second overnight, struggled to a closing 77 in the last group with Immelman and ended tied third on four under with countryman Stewart Cink, who edged quietly into position with a 72.


England's Paul Casey, four shots adrift in fourth overnight and carrying Britain's hopes of a first Masters winner since Nick Faldo in 1996, suffered a disastrous final round of seven-over 79 to plummet out of contention.


And while the leading contenders were contriving to hand the title to Immelman, Open champion Padraig Harrington and two-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson made significant gains on the leaderboard, also with 72s, to finish two under and tied fifth with Steve Flesch (78).


"My short game was poor," said Harrington. "I was very comfortable on the golf course and well in the zone but I'm not satisfied with the high finish. We're all about trying to get out there and win. But what finishing like this says to me is I'm doing the right things."


Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez fired the round of the day, a 68, which included a holed second shot for eagle on the 7th and a chip-in on 18, to jump to one under.


Alongside Jimenez in a tie for eighth were Swede Robert Karlsson (73) and Argentine Andres Romero (73), who led the Open at Carnoustie last July before double-bogeying his penultimate hole.


The beleaguered Casey ended up level par alongside countryman Lee Westwood (73) and American debutant Nick Watney, while at one over, Australian Stuart Appleby, Fiji's Vijay Singh and American Sean O'Hair completed the top 16 who receive automatic invites next year.



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