Trevor Immelman was not just the leader but also the favourite going into the final round of the Masters at Augusta National today.
And given his best finish in seven stroke play events this season was 40th, he stood 129th on the US money list, was not among the top 200 in putting and had never come close to winning a major, that was a pretty remarkable state of affairs.
Yet, so impressive has the 28-year-old South African been so far this week - and lucky on one notable occasion – odds of 6/4 with 18 holes to play did not seem totally misplaced.
The massive stroke of fortune came on the 15th hole of his third round. A pitch that landed on the green and then spun back appeared to have only one destination – water.
But, in a scene reminiscent of Fred Couples at the 12th hole when he triumphed in 1992, the ball stopped halfway down the bank.
“I was begging for it to stop as soon as it could, but I must say I couldn’t quite believe it when it stayed up,” he commented.
Immelman capitalised by saving par, then matched the closing birdies of nearest rivals Brandt Snedeker and Steve Flesch to take a two-stroke advantage into the final round.
What the trio had all done with their memorable finishes was to leave Tiger Woods further behind.
At seven under par, Britain’s Paul Casey was four behind in fourth place and then came a further two-shot gap to the world number one and four-time Masters champion, whose bogey-free 68 was the joint best round of the day.
All of Woods’ 13 Major victories have come with him at least sharing the lead with a day to go, and in his entire professional career he has only once fought back from six or more shots behind after 54 holes.
That occasion was 10 years ago in Thailand when he trailed Ernie Els, no less, by eight and won in a play-off.
His most notable recovery on American soil came the following year at Pebble Beach. Matt Gogel was seven clear of him with only seven holes to play, but he won by two.
Immelman has long been identified as a player who could join South Africa’s other major winners, Bobby Locke, Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, but there was no hint it would be this week.
He appeared to be making a slow recovery from the surgery in December that revealed, to his huge relief, a tumour on his diaphragm was benign and not cancerous.
But all of a sudden he hit the heights and a round in the sixties today would make him the first Masters champion in history to break 70 all four days.
The statistics of his performance hinted he might well do it – fourth in driving distance, first in driving accuracy, joint first in greens in regulation and tied seventh in putting.
Woods, by comparison, was ninth, 25th, eighth and 27th in those four categories.
The biggest test was still to come, of course. Immelman’s last win was in the Nedbank Challenge in his home country just before his operation. He bogeyed the last three holes but hung on because Justin Rose double-bogeyed the last.
None of the four players ahead of Woods had a single Major title between them. But everybody wins their first major at some point and it was a golden opportunity for Immelman, 27-year-old Snedeker, 40-year-old Flesch or 30-year-old Casey.
Immelman first became known in British golf circles 11 years ago. The Amateur Championship was at Sandwich in Kent and by reaching the final the 17-year-old had the chance to be the youngest winner.
After speaking to reporters following the semi-finals, he used one of the telephones in the press centre and was heard to sign off to his parents: “I’ll ring back after I win”.
Immelman was apparently in tears over newspaper references to his cockiness the next morning and Scot Craig Watson beat him three and two.
Watson was the one, therefore, to earn a place in the following year’s Masters, but Immelman got there a year later by winning the United States Public Links title.
Making the cut then was a notable achievement. Not as notable, though, as winning it now.