Now that the first of the four major golf tournaments is in the history books for 2008, ambitious sports writers around the world will be asking the question of whether or not this year’s Masters champion Trevor Immelman is capable of replacing Tiger Woods as the world’s No. l-ranked professional golfer.

Of course with this Korner being completely sold on Tiger as being the greatest golfer ever, that is somewhat of a moot question. But if one looks at this scenario a bit more objectively, there’s more than merely a remote chance of Immelman at least getting on an even keel with Tiger Woods.

If you go way back to when Immelman was just a little shaver knee-high to a grasshopper in his home town of Cape Town , South Africa , you will see some parallels to the early Tiger Woods story.

Trevor began playing golf at the age of five, following in the footsteps of his golf teaching brother Mark, who is nine years older. By the time he was 12 years old, Trevor was a scratch golfer and played the African Junior Junior Golf Association from age 13 to 17. His father, Johan, was commissioner of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa .
His boyhood hero was fellow South African Gary Player, who posed for a picture with young Trevor in South Africa about the time he lost his two front teeth. The photo was shown several times last weekend on CBS-TV.

Player was great worldwide but came into prominence about the same time as two American golfers named Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus appeared on the PGA scene. Many a golf tournament in the 1960’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s were battles involving Nicklaus, Palmer and Player.

Trevor and Player played a practice round together earlier last week, which was a thrill for Immelman and also proved to be a big confidence-builder for him. Player told Trevor that he was good enough to win the green jacket and then left him a voicemail Saturday night with the message: “I know you’re going to win.”

Player set a record last week by participating in his 51st straight Masters and promised tournament officials that he would be back for a 52nd time in 2009. Player won green jackets in 1961, 1974 and 1978. He is famous for his quote during the prime of his career, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Trevor was born Dec. 16, 1979 in Cape Town and turned pro before age 20 in Cape Town ’s Pearl Valley in 1999. He played in one event on the Nationwide Tour and earned his PGA card for the 2004 season where he played in 12 events and made the cut nine times, earning $109,560.

In 2005 he participated in 14 PGA Tour events and made the cut 10 times, increasing his earnings to $614,867.

His breakout year was 2006 when he won the Cialis Western Open, had a second place finish and was in the Top 10 in eight tournaments and in the Top 25 15 times in 24 starts, earned $3.88 million and was named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. That was the same year, incidentally, that Tiger Woods was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Last year he participated in 21 PGA tournaments, finishing third twice, making the cut 15 times and earning $1.8 million. This year the Masters was his ninth PGA Tour event, making the cut five times and finishing in the Top 25 once before last weekend in Augusta .

Those credentials don’t even come close to any of Tiger’s accomplishments except that he got off to a good start in this year’s Masters and managed to be the leader at the end of all four days. He lost his lead during a couple of the rounds, but rallied at the end of the day to either lead or at least have a share of first place.

Trevor played the final round with young Brandt Snedeker, who started the day two strokes down but tied Immelman with an impressive eagle on the Par 5 No. 2 hole. But Snedeker, last year’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, gave one of those strokes back on the next hole and never challenged his player partner again in the final round.
In fact nobody really made a run at Immelman on that final day, mainly because the course was playing fast and the winds were high and gusty, creating havoc for the players when trying to judge distances and direction.

Tiger was one of a handful of players who equaled or bettered par on that Sunday. His birdie on the 72nd hole gave him a 72 for the final round and put him alone in second place. “I hit the ball well enough from tee-to-green to contend,” Tiger told CBS after the tournament, “I just couldn’t make any putts.”

Immelman is the first South African to win the Masters since Player did it in 1978. His second PGA Tour win was worth $1.34 million and probably three times that amount in endorsements. He had a chance to become the first Masters golfer to shoot four consecutive rounds in the 60’s, but shot 75 Sunday after rounds of 68, 68 and 69.
However, his 75 on Sunday tied the record for the highest winning Masters score on the final round. And it may be the only time in Trevor Immelman’s career that a 75 will ever be good enough to keep Tiger Woods out of the winner’s circle.

KWICKIES…Sunset Grove Country Club golfer Bob Hood got his first ever hole-in-one last week on the Par 3, 160-yard No. 14 hole. Due to the high winds that were gusting to around 30 mph, Bob used a wood to get across the water and playing partner Jake Powell said he saw the ball go into the hole for an ace. For his effort Bob will be presented a check for $100 for being a member of the Men’s Golf Association.
And while on the topic of golf, 62-year-old Canadian singer Anne Murray was ranked as the best woman celebrity golfer by Golf Digest recently. In second place was Tina Leoni, followed by singer Celina Dion and then 56-year-old Cheryl Ladd, who was tied for fourth place with Julie Kidd. Others in the top 10 include Janet Jones-Gretzky, Beverly Johnson, Salli Richardson, Ines Sastre and Amy Grant.

The Lamar Cardinals got swept at home in a three-game series by Sam Houston State last weekend as the Bearkats punished the Big Red pitching staff for 38 runs and 56 hits and departed Vincent-Beck Stadium Sunday with a lofty team batting average of .347. After posting wins of 14-3 Friday and 9-8 Saturday, the Huntsville visitors built up a huge early lead and then hung on for a 15-12 victory Sunday over the Redbirds. Lamar saw their Southland Conference East Division record drop to 10-5 and their overall mark sink to 20-14. Sam Houston is now 21-13 overall and 9-6 in the SLC West Division.

JUST BETWEEN US….Our feeble Houston Astros closed out the recent six-game home stand at 3-3 with a pair of impressive wins last weekend over the Florida Marlins. Brandon Backe became the first Astros starter to get credit for a win as he hurled five innings of shutout baseball as Houston won 5-0. On Sunday Wandy Rodriguez pitched his second straight masterpiece, allowing one run and five hits in seven innings as the Astros won 5-1. This time when Manager Cecil Cooper yanked him from the game while he was pitching nearly flawless baseball it didn’t cost him a mound victory like it did last Monday against St. Louis when Cooper pulled him with a 3-0 shutout going and relief ace Jose Valverde blew the save by allowing three Cardinal runs in the ninth inning. After an off-day Monday, the Astros travel to Philadelphia for three games before returning home for a weekend series with defending National League champion Colorado .