Apr24 Immelman back on course after extended Masters celebration


``You can see all the Sharpie that's rubbed up onto my hand. That wouldn't normally happen to me,'' Immelman said Wednesday. ``That's purely because I've had to sign so much today. ... You've got to pinch yourself when you realize that you're the Masters champion and that's the reason all this is happening.''

Immelman had a whirlwind week after the victory, with his first trip to New York for countless interviews, a congratulatory phone call from runner-up Tiger Woods and a few days at home trying to reflect on what had happened.

``It still hasn't quite sunk in yet,'' Immelman said.

But the green jacket is now hanging at home and Immelman is ready to play again, in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship at the renovated TPC Four Seasons, the sole tournament course for the first time since 1993. Cottonwood Valley also was used from 1994-2007.

The Masters champion, who finished second at the Nelson two years ago, is suddenly one of the big-name draws in a field that has only one player from the top 10 in the world rankings: 10th-ranked Adam Scott.

Immelman never considered bypassing the Nelson, but uncertainty about the renovations and the $6.4 million tournament being sandwiched in a three-week span between the Masters and The Players Championship were a factor in others skipping.

Soon after Scott Verplank's emotional victory last year, when deteriorating greens were bumpy and sometimes brown, work began on a $10 million project on the course that included changes on every hole and the relocation of 165 trees. The redesign was completed in time despite record rainfall last summer.

``Coming back as defending champion, you really hate to see them change anything. But, it's good,'' Verplank said.

``It's fantastic. It really is. It's such a huge improvement,'' Immelman said. ``I think as soon as word gets out how good the golf course is, you're going to start attracting a lot of great players to this event again.''

As will a later date, which seems more likely after EDS announced a four-year extension of its title sponsorship through 2014 after negations with the PGA Tour.

``Tim and I had a meeting of the minds and understood,'' EDS chairman and CEO Ron Rittenmeyer said, with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem sitting to his right. ``He's been incredibly supportive of this event and has eliminated reasonably what are our concerns.''

While not yet ready to discuss specifics of that extension, Rittenmeyer has publicly expressed his desire for the tournament to be held in May. He did indicate that will happen at least some over the next six years.

Verplank finally won the Nelson on his 21st try last year. He was a fitting champion for the first tournament without its namesake watching from his chair beside the 18th green. Byron Nelson died in September 2006 at the age of 94.

``Scott's victory was almost preordained,'' 2007 tournament chairman Brooks Cullum said this week when formally presenting Verplank with his trophy.

When his final 2-foot putt rolled into the cup last year, Verplank dropped into a squatting position, looked skyward and let his emotions flow. Missing was a personal congratulation from Nelson, but Peggy Nelson was there clutching one of her late husband's famed fedoras when she hugged Verplank.

``It's a special deal for me, actually getting to live a dream,'' Verplank said. ``Most people dream and don't ever get to realize their dreams. I was lucky enough to get to do that and I actually realized it while it was happening.''

Verplank's last victory had been in 2001, and he had only one top-10 finish in his first eight tournaments last season before the Nelson. He finished with 10 top 10s and won $3.1 million, both career bests.

``I had not been playing that well coming in here last year and obviously got inspired,'' said Verplank, who has only one top-10 finish in nine tournaments this season. ``It's pretty similar to how it was last year at this time. ... I always look forward to coming to play here.''

This is Verplank's 22nd Nelson, the most of anybody in the field. The record is 28 by Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson, neither who has played here since 1999.

Immelman, the 28-year-old South African, will try to do what only one of the last 20 Masters winners has been able to do: win their next tournament after donning the green jacket. That was Woods, in 1997, when he won at the Nelson after his first Masters victory. But there the only one to miss the cut in his next tournament was Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994.

Immelman has been in position to win the Nelson before. He had a three-stroke lead midway through the final round in 2006 before losing to Brett Wetterich by a stroke, a week after losing to Jim Furyk in a playoff.