Immelman Looking to Rebound in New Year

Ever since bursting onto the international golf scene with a three-stroke victory over Tiger Woods in the 2008 Masters, Trevor Immelman has faded from the promising career portended by that big win.

But the 31-year-old South African has an excuse; for the past two years he has been trying to overcome a painful injury to his left wrist. Unfortunately, due to inactivity and dismal intermittent performances during this period his world golf ranking has plummeted to No. 269, becoming the only major champion in the past five seasons not currently ranked in the world top 60.

Now, thanks to taking time off to ensure the wrist has completely healed following surgery, Immelman hopes to return to his previous form and once again become a factor on the golf course.

"Really, in the last 18 months, that hasn't been me playing," he told The Associated Press while practicing at the Lake Nona driving range in Florida. "I don't mean that in an arrogant sense. I know what I'm capable of when I'm feeling good and feeling strong. I'm going to give myself a full season and then see how that pans out."

"I'm excited," he added. "Everything is right on track. I'm looking forward to a full season again. It's been a few years."

The wrist injury wasn't the first interruption to his career. Immelman lost 25 pounds from a stomach parasite in 2007, and at the end of that year he was forced to withdraw from the South African Airways Open due to breathing problems and severe discomfort around his ribcage. Following exploratory surgery the next day, doctors discovered a lesion the size of a golf ball on his diaphragm, which was later determined to be a benign calcified fibrosis tumor.

And then he started experiencing pain in his left wrist at the end of 2008. It was so debilitating he couldn't play in the 2009 U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Immelman tried rest and entered a few tournaments, but never finished higher than 50th, if he made the cut.

"The final straw was in Las Vegas last year," he told the AP. "I played a Tuesday practice round, and I was in so much pain that I went back to the hotel and said to [wife] Carminita, 'I don't think I can muscle through this'."

Immelman withdrew from that tournament, flew to New York and had surgery shortly after. He was in a cast for three weeks, but it was another three months before he could even grip a putter with his left hand.

Swing coach David Leadbetter says Immelman's wrist strength is about 95 percent and, even more encouraging, is that his desire is as strong as ever. "I think he's in a good place," Leadbetter said.

"I fully expect him to really get it back. It wasn't a shock he won Augusta because he's been a very, very good player for a long time. The good thing is he's young enough, and experienced enough."

Immelman will make his first appearance of the upcoming season in the Bob Hope Classic. Meanwhile, he's hoping that the time away from competition hasn't dulled his talents or eroded his confidence.

"Confidence only grows when you shoot 65, when you hit 18 greens in regulation, when you get your name on the leaderboard," he said. "The relief for me is I'm only 31. I truly believe my best golf is still ahead of me."