Sat, Jul 30, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Former Masters champ Immelman leads Greenbrier

AP, WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WEST VIRGINIA

Trevor Immelman of South Africa hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the Greenbrier Classic at the Old White TPC on Thursday in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Photo: AFP

Trevor Immelman’s best round of the year gave him a one-stroke lead at the Greenbrier Classic, reinforcing the former Masters champion’s belief that he can regain his top form less than two years after wrist surgery.

The South African shot a six-under 64 on Thursday to take the first-round lead by a stroke over five other contenders.

“I hope I’m close,” Immelman said. “You never know with this game. It’s been a frustrating couple of years not being able to swing the way I want to swing and practice the way I want to practice. For the most part this year, I’ve been able to get back to working on the things I used to work on back then. I’m definitely seeing signs of improvement. Albeit slow progress, it’s been progress.”

Shooting 65s were Gary Woodland, Billy Mayfair, Derek Lamely, Webb Simpson and Australia’s Steven Bowditch.

The Old White TPC course underwent a makeover since Stuart Appleby shot 59 in the final round last year to beat Jeff Overton by a stroke for the title. The renovations included lengthened tee boxes and reseeding greens that are less receptive to approach shots.

The course surrendered 81 under-par rounds on the first day last year — 41 players broke par on Thursday.

Immelman, who failed to advance to weekend play in last year’s tournament, carded seven birdies and a bogey. Although erratic off the tee, his iron play was solid. He missed one green in regulation and five of his birdies came from less than 11 feet.

Immelman began having trouble with his left wrist at the end of 2008. He had surgery in October 2009 and underwent several months of rehabilitation. The closest he’s come to a top 10 finish in the past three seasons is a share of 12th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.

Although he’s missed the cut four times in his last six tournaments, Immelman is poised to improve on his No. 108 position in FedEx Cup points. He failed to qualify for the playoffs the last two seasons.

“For the most part this year, I’ve been working on some of those old feels and trying to get some consistency back,” Immelman said. “I’ve seen signs of some good play and some good shots at the right time. I’m just trying to stay patient with it.”

The top 125 in the FedEx standings qualify for the playoff opener at The Barclays next month. Mayfair is 113th, while former Nationwide Tour players Bowditch (128th) and Lamely (195th) are among others trying to move up.

Simpson, in his fifth year on the USPGA Tour, is still chasing his first career win and hopes to earn a spot at next week’s Bridgestone Invitational. The top 50 in the world rankings receive exemptions. He is 53rd.

Mayfair is still looking for his first win since 1998. He earned his USPGA Tour card this year after winning qualifying school in December.

Mayfair’s lone top 10 this year was a tie for eighth at the Zurich Classic. Earlier this month, he was nine-under midway through the John Deere Classic, but finished seven-under.

“It’s been a disappointing year, but as we all say, one week out here can change a lot of things,” Mayfair said.

Lamely won the Puerto Rico Open last year, but he has missed the cut in 25 of 39 events since.

After starting with 12 straight pars, Lamely made birdies on five of his last six holes on Thursday, including a chip-in on the par-three 18th.

Woodland, whose first USPAGE Tour win came at the Transitions Championship in March, holed his approach shot from 101 yards for eagle at the fourth and improved to five-under after a birdie at 14. He had a chance to tie for the lead, but overshot the green on the par-five 17th and made bogey. He finished with a four-footer for birdie on 18.

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