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Trevor Immelman realising potential

In the eyes of his peers, it was simply a question of time before South Africa's Trevor Immelman won his first title on the competitive U.S. PGA Tour.

Long regarded as heir apparent to Ernie Els and Retief Goosen as his country's top player, he finally broke through with a two-shot victory at the Western Open in Lemont, Illinois on Sunday.

The 26-year-old from Cape Town did so in style, holing a breaking 30-foot birdie putt at the last to hold off world number one Tiger Woods in a tournament once viewed as the unofficial "fifth major".

Immelman also had to bide his time before claiming a maiden European Tour title at the 2003 South African Open, having turned professional in 1999 after a glittering amateur career.

At no point, though, did either he or his peers ever doubt his potential.

"He's a great player," three-times major winner Els said of his compatriot two years ago. "He works out really well, practises a lot and he's totally committed.

"Plus he's got all of the talent in the world. I've seen him since he was a four-year-old kid and I think he's going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Woods, who closed to within a stroke of Immelman with a closing 67 on Sunday before the dapper South African sealed victory, expressed a similar view.

"It was just a matter of time before he won," the 10-times major champion said. "He came close at Wachovia this year and obviously he has an inordinate amount of talent. Good for Trev."

Immelman narrowly missed out on PGA Tour titles in successive weeks during May.

He was beaten by Jim Furyk in a playoff for the Wachovia Championship before finishing a stroke behind winner Brett Wetterich at the Byron Nelson Championship.

Immelman commendably refused to wallow in self-pity, preferring to revel in the best form of his career and feeling confident his time would come on the PGA Tour.

"I'm playing the best golf of my life," he said after the Byron Nelson. "It's just a case of trying to build on these last few achievements and hopefully close one out eventually."

His wait for that elusive breakthrough win lasted eight more weeks.

"I knew I was on the right track with everything that I was doing, so I was just trying to be patient and keep doing the same things," Immelman told reporters at Cog Hill on Sunday.

"I knew I wasn't too far off, just waiting for my time to win a tournament. Now that I've done it, it's awesome. It's just an incredible feeling.

"I was always hoping to be one of the best players in the world and win great championships."

A three-times winner on the European Tour, Immelman has been tipped for the top since his amateur days.

He wanted to be a professional golfer from the age of five, played off scratch at the age of 12 and represented the African Junior Golf Association Tour from 13 to 17.

In 1996, aged 17, he represented his country at the Eisenhower Trophy in Chile but suffered the disappointment of losing three finals that year: the British amateur, the New Zealand amateur and the U.S. junior championship.

Since turning professional, he has won four times on the Southern African Tour, twice in events co-sanctioned by the European Tour.

Immelman, whose father Johann is commissioner of the Southern African Tour, would love to follow in the footsteps of his idols Els and Goosen.

"Those guys, along with Gary Player, have been the people that I've looked up to in my career," he said.

"Those are massive shoes to fill, with five majors between them, but it would be fantastic if I could in some way emulate them."

July 11, 2006

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