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Player sends congrats to the winner
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    AUGUSTA – The message was so motivating, so uplifting, Trevor Immelman replayed it on speakerphone so his entire family could hear.    Three-time Masters champion and fellow South African Gary Player couldn’t be in Augusta Sunday, so he left a voicemail for Immelman Saturday night.
    Player’s message was clear: He believed in Immelman, who needed to keep his head quiet while he putted and handle the adversity that is inevitable Sunday at the Masters.    
    “It gave me goose bumps,” said Immelman, who grew up idolizing Player.
    Immelman was five years old when he first met Player, and the legendary golfer kept in touch with the budding star by always being available for support, coaching or motivation. In a sense, he was like a second father to Immelman.
    Now the pair shares a unique distinction — they’re the only two South African Masters champions.
    With the coveted green jacket draped over his shoulders Sunday night, Immelman predicted the magic of his first major would take a while to sink in.
    “I still can’t believe I’m sitting in this position, but I’m really thankful for it,” the 28-year-old said. “I’m going to try to take it in stride, do all the right things and be a good role model to all the children out there.”
    He shared the lead after the opening round and amazingly stayed on top over the next three rounds. Immelman shot in the 60s in the first three days, just the 10th player in Masters history to do so, and remained in the lead Sunday despite blustery conditions. His 3-over 75 in the final round put him at 8-under for the tournament, three shots better than second place Tiger Woods.
    Immelman said he paid no attention to Woods’ climb up the leaderboard, opting not to look up to see where he stood Sunday.
    The win was especially meaningful for Immelman, who had a cancer scare just fourth months ago. The seven-inch scar across his back tells the story, and luckily the tumor was benign.
    “This has probably been the ultimate roller coaster ride, and I hate roller coasters,” said Immelman, who picked up his second win on the PGA Tour.     “You realize it can get taken away from you so fast. If you don’t enjoy every step of the way you might regret it, and that would be sad.”
    Still on the mend from his surgery, he missed the cut in half of the events he’s played in this season, including last weekend.
    “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Immelman said of his lightening-fast turnaround.
    His win came with some back-nine drama: He was protecting a five-shot lead when his tee shot on 16 went swimming, forcing him into a double bogey. He parred the next two holes to secure the win.
Immelman led the field in driving accuracy, hitting 48 of 56 fairways (85.71 percent).
    “The last two days, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody drive the ball that well anywhere,” said Brandt Snedeker, Immelman’s playing partner the last two days.
    “It was just so tough, and I was just trying to hang in there,” Immelman said. “There’s a disaster around every corner. I can’t believe I did it.”

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