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Inside the Ropes: Persistent Immelman wins back tour card

The SportsXchange

Trevor Immelman regained his PGA Tour card by winning the Hotel Fitness Championship, the first event of the Web.com Tour playoffs, and he's not wasting any time putting a new lease on his golf life to work.

Immelman is in the field this week for the third time during the new season at the McGladrey Classic, trying to rebuild a career that seemed to have limitless upside when he captured the 2008 Masters by three strokes over Tiger Woods.

After five years during which he struggled because of injury and subpar play, the South African sees no reason why he can't make it back to the top.

"You're either winning or fighting, there's no other option," said Immelman, a golf prodigy in South Africa who was a scratch player at age 12 and captured the 1998 United States Public Links Amateur Championship. "The last several years, I've been fighting.

" ... I'm not going to quit, I'm going to keep going and keep fighting and keep working hard. I've just got to keep going day after day. I'm still only 33 and (I have) a long way ahead of me."

Immelman, who struggled to get his game back after wrist and elbow injuries hampered him in 2009 and 2010, missed the cut in half of the 24 events he played on the PGA Tour in 2013.

With the five-year exemption he received for winning at Augusta exhausted after he finished 143rd in the FedEx Cup standings and missed the playoffs, it seemed the downward spiral of his career was continuing.

Since PGA Tour Qualifying School as we once knew it a thing of the past, players who finished between 126 and 200 in the points standings were given an opportunity to regain their playing privileges in the Web.com Tour playoffs.

Immelman took the chance.

The veteran showed the young guns how it's done, posting four rounds in the 60s, including a closing 6-under-par 66, and sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to beat 21-year-old Patrick Cantlay and win the Hotel Fitness title at Sycamore Hills Golf Club in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Immelman appeared with another veteran, Chris DiMarco, shortly afterward on the "Morning Drive" show on the Golf Channel, and DiMarco said: "All of us pros try to make sure that after all that practice we are able to pull of that shot when you're nervous coming down the stretch.

"(Immelman), making that putt on 18, has always been able to do that."

The Hotel Fitness was the 11th victory of Immelman's pro career, including five in South Africa on the Sunshine Tour, of which his father, Johan, once was the commissioner.

And this isn't the first time he has overcome adversity.

In December 2007, Immelman withdrew from the South African Airways Open because he was having trouble breathing and was experiencing severe pain in his ribcage area.

A few days later, he underwent exploratory surgery and doctors removed a lesion about the size of a golf ball, which proved to be benign, from his diaphragm.

Immelman missed the first month of the 2008 PGA Tour season and failed to make the cut in three of his four tournaments, but he got his game on track in time to win the Masters in April.

Having regained his card, he's hoping to play like a major champion again.

"I think my wife and family truly understands how frustrating things were for me," Immelman said after winning the Hotel Fitness title. "This is really sweet and I'm going to enjoy it.

"You know, you never want to lose your job in any walk of life. It was so disappointing to lose my card. I'm not going to lie. I've struggled since 2008. I've been wondering if I can get back to playing the way I know I can play. Now I know I can.

"I've got to say, I've felt good the last few months and felt like if I could get some confidence, get some self-belief, that things could turn around."

Immelman is not unlike the struggling veteran who gets sent back to the minors and returns to the big leagues as good as ever.

Or, sometimes, even better.

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