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Immelman's story
Trevor Immelman waves to the gallery after making birdie on the 17th hole during the second round of the 2008 Masters in Augusta Friday. - photo by Associated Press
    AUGUSTA — Less than four months ago, Trevor Immelman was resting in a hospital bed, his body pumped full of pain medication as it recovered from surgery to remove a golf-ball sized tumor from his diaphragm.
    Friday, he was atop the Masters leaderboard.
    But back in December, two days after the South African’s 28th birthday, things weren’t as bright and shiny for Immelman, who had a two-day wait before learning the good news — the tumor was benign.
    In a few weeks he was walking again, and after about a month he was hitting a handful of chip shots. Eventually his body regained its strength, and these days he’s feeling back to normal.
    Like any major health alarm, the ordeal gave him a renewed appreciation for life.
    “I realized it can get taken away from you real fast,” Immelman said after firing a second-straight 4-under 68 Friday to sit at 8-under for the tournament. “I feel like I’ve been loaned a talent, and you know, I’m going to try and do as well as I can. Obviously, since we’ve had our first child, you want to hand around and be a part of his growing up and try and make sure he turns into a good, upstanding citizen of the world. For those reasons, it was all scary.”
    Immelman maintained his top spot on the leaderboard Friday by knocking down five birdies during the warm and sunny round. He was 1-under par on the fifth, seventh and 11th holes before ending his outing on a high note with back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18.
    “The course is at some point going to show its teeth and the possibility of some bad weather,” he said. “So if you’re playing well, you have to try and make some good scores while you can.”
    Immelman made the cut a year ago, but didn’t play well on the weekend after a stomach bug caused him to drop about 20 pounds. His 2007 Masters troubles, combined with his tribulations this winter, make this week that much more special for Immelman.
    “To shoot two 68s in the first two days is probably beyond my expectations, so I’m pretty thrilled right now,” he said.
    He wasn’t completely happy with the way he struck the ball Friday but remained in the lead with solid putting, including a few that saved par. Immelman’s strong Masters start has included nine birdies and just one bogey. His only hiccup came when he three putted No. 6 Friday, and he bounced back quickly with a birdie on the next hole.
    He’ll look to carry his momentum into the next two days and continue regaining his confidence, the most elusive part of his game since his medical hardships. While putting the pieces back together, he missed the cut in half of the events he’s played in this season.
    He’ll have to rediscover his self-assurance on a tough Augusta National course in the world’s most famous golf tournament, which has always been particularly invigorating for him.
    “The whole atmosphere, the mystique, the way the golf course is set up, the way the golf course is prepared for us, you know, everything about this tournament and this venue – it’s what dreams are made of,” he said.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.