Immelman sets the pace

South African Trevor Immelman, his life given a new perspective when he was operated on for a benign tumour in December, threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field in The Masters today.

South African Trevor Immelman, his life given a new perspective when he was operated on for a benign tumour in December, threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field in The Masters today.

However, more than one European was showing that he was capable of taking up the challenge.

Immelman, who on his last visit to Augusta National a year ago was put out of action for over a month by a stomach parasite, had his second successive 68 for an eight-under-par halfway total of 136.

England's Paul Casey called it an "unbelievable" score, but the Ryder Cup player birdied the last for a 69 and on four under was part of the chasing pack.

So were joint first round leader Justin Rose, still four under after four holes, and Ian Poulter was on the same mark, birdies at the 12th and 13th making sure he would not be remembered only for his hole-in-one in a first round 70.

Lee Westwood improved to four under as well, but then came a double bogey seven on the 13th after he duffed a pitch into the creek by the green and soon after that Rose slipped back to three under with a bogey on the 455-yard fifth as a freshening breeze made conditions tougher.

Immelman led by one from American Brandt Snedeker, with left-handers Steve Flesch and Phil Mickelson two further back.

Mickelson is, of course, seeking his third win in five years and a 68 was just the tonic he wanted after a disappointing build-up to the first major of the season.

As for Tiger Woods, he threatened to make a real move after an outrageous birdie from the trees on the first.

But he then bogeyed the long second and three putts on the short sixth left him one over and only joint 25th. Anyone able to lip read was left in no doubt about what he thought of that situation.

It was just after Immelman had beaten Rose to the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City four months ago that he started feeling pains.

"I went to the doctor and we eventually figured out that I had a tumour on my diaphragm," he said.

"They had to go in between the 10th and 11th rib and cut through the intracostal muscle. It was some pretty scary stuff and it took a couple days to get the results back, so that was pretty hair-raising.

"But luckily enough it's all benign and it's all been removed."

A bogey at the short sixth today came between his first two birdies and on the back nine, just as the wind started to freshen, he picked up further shots on the difficult 11th - his second three there in a row - 17th and 18th.

Casey has not been in the hunt at any tournament this year, but commented after closing with a 10-footer: "Nice week to start playing well.

"I'd never shot under par in the first round until yesterday. That always put me behind the eight-ball, so this is a different mindset.

"I can't be as aggressive and you always have to be wary of this course, but it was nice to have Trevor's eight under there because it gave me something to chase."

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