AUGUSTA - Masters Tournament champion Trevor Immelman's final tee shot Sunday found a rare dirt patch in an Augusta National Golf Club fairway.
"Biggest divot I've ever seen," Immelman said.
How appropriate, since just like Immelman's ball, the world's best golf tournament seems stuck in a rut.
Immelman's final margin of victory - three strokes - is inconsequential. He won the tournament almost an hour before his final putt dropped. His birdie at No. 13 gave him a six-shot lead with five holes to go, a lead even the Braves' bullpen couldn't blow.
The pseudo-runaway would be no reason to panic if not for similar finishes the last two years.
Last April, Zach Johnson won by two strokes but essentially took control of the tournament with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14.
In 2006, Phil Mickelson won by two, yet he owned a three-stroke lead on his main challenger, Fred Couples, with five holes to go.
Trevor Immelman didn't like what he saw after hitting his second shot on the 17th hole Sunday. Still, he held on for the triumph.
Maybe it's all cyclical. We've witnessed yawners here before.
The 1999, 2000 and 2002 tournaments lacked so much drama that CBS's trademark piano music threatened to put you to sleep at every commercial break. But then Mike Weir won in a playoff in 2003, Phil Mickelson beat Ernie Els with a birdie putt at No. 18 in 2004 and Tiger Woods came from behind on Sunday to win in 2005.
Same goes for a stretch in the 1980s. The 1983, 1984 and 1985 Masters were dull. But then followed seven of the greatest Masters ever, featuring Jack Nicklaus' win at age 46, Larry Mize's playoff chip-in, Scott Hoch's choke and Fred Couples' miracle at No. 12.
Yet this run of snoozers seems different than the others.
The golf course is harder now than ever, and any inclement weather - wind, cold - turns the second nine into a Rubik's Cube for the players. Instead of seeing the Amen Corner exit ramp, No. 13, as the start of an easy navigable four-lane highway, they find it leading to a winding mountain road where, as Immelman said, "there's disaster around every corner."
The Masters Tournament no longer "starts" on the back nine on Sunday. It just ends there. The winner is more likely a survivor than a charger.
Another, more disturbing, reason the Masters has us drooling on our couch pillows is the players. Vijay Singh is 45 and can no longer challenge Woods, at least not consistently. Phil Mickelson can't either, not since contracting another case of the stupids at the 2006 U.S. Open. David Duval lost his game, while Ernie Els and Retief Goosen only find theirs on rare occasions.
As for the youngsters, Sergio Garcia has waggled his way right out of the public's conscious. Adam Scott and Aaron Baddeley are big names at The Players Championship and the Heritage, but not in the majors. Geoff Ogilvy owns a major - handed to him by Mickelson - but he's no Greg Norman. Justin Rose is nothing more than a tease.
Maybe Immelman is the new Masters master. Maybe he or Brandt Snedeker is the next Jose Maria Olazabal and Fred Couples, golfers who played best at Augusta National.
Let's hope so. Before the rut gets any deeper.
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