AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 12 (Reuters) - South African Trevor
Immelman held steady through the front nine and surged ahead
with an impeccable homeward half on Saturday to seize a
two-shot lead with one round to play at the U.S. Masters.
Immelman, the overnight leader at eight under par, posted a
three-under-par 69 at rain-softened Augusta National for an
11-under 205 total.
The 28-year-old South African stood 18 holes from his first
major tournament title, though 13-times major winner Tiger
Woods was lurking in fifth place, six shots back.
In second place on 207 was American Brandt Snedeker, who
overcame three successive bogeys from the 11th with birdies at
14, 15 and 18.
American Steve Flesch shot 69 for 208, one better than
Briton Paul Casey, who also registered a three-under 69.
Four-times champion Woods posted 68 for five-under 211.
Immelman pulled ahead of the pack with birdies at the
par-five 13th and par-four 14th and then escaped danger at 15.
The South African's third shot to the par-five hole spun
off the green and appeared to be headed down the front bank and
into the pond before somehow stopping on the steep slope.
"The ball came out on a lower trajectory than what I was
looking for and it just had so much spin on it," Immelman told
reporters. "I have no clue how that ball stayed up there, but
obviously I'm thankful."
Immelman chipped back up to the green and holed a four-foot
putt to save par and held his nerve through the finish.
"I think any time you're playing this course it's difficult
to hold it together, let alone the third round of the
tournament," said Immelman, who is finding his top form after
recovering from illnesses that set him back last season.
He capped off his impressive round with a breathtaking
approach to three feet at the last and rolled in his third
birdie of the back nine.
Snedeker, 27, matched Immelman with his own birdie at 18 to
claw all the way back from his trio of bogeys at the stretch of
holes from 11 to 13 known as Amen Corner.
"I think I figured out why they call it Amen Corner," he
joked. "I tried to minimise my mistakes and didn't make any
double bogeys and I told myself I was playing great golf and to
keep doing it."
The left-handed Flesch, a 40-year-old journeyman, played a
steady round to stay in the thick of the chase.
"I have nothing to lose, nobody expects Steve Flesch to do
much in the Masters Tournament," he said. "But I have a big
heart and I'm a gritty competitor."
Casey charged to eight-under with four birdies on the front
nine, but rode a rollercoaster after the turn with three bogeys
and two birdies to end the round on seven-under-par.
"Today was an example that you can make birdies out there,
but bogeys are right around the corner if you're not careful,"
said Casey, 30. "And I seemed to make both frequently."
World number one Woods, striking the ball beautifully but
unable to take full advantage of opportunities, was frustrated
with his performance but happy for a chance at a 14th major.
"Today was probably the highest score I could have probably
shot," said Woods, who started his round shortly after play
resumed following a 40-minute suspension for heavy rain and the
threat of lightning in the area.
"I hit the ball well all day, hit a lot of good putts that
didn't quite have the right speed or the right line," he said,
"but, hey, I put myself right back in the tournament."