Immelman on top at Georgia Masters

Augusta, Georgia - It's hard to imagine a canvass more bright and colorful than the sun-drenched grounds of Augusta National on Friday morning. It was the kind of day for which the Masters was made.

"Everything about this tournament and this venue, it's what dreams are made of," said Trevor Immelman. "Every single player who is here has dreamt of playing in this tournament."

One might add that every single player dreams of playing in it the way Immelman is playing. For the second consecutive day, the South African put a 4-under-par 68 on the board, lowering his tournament- leading pace to 8-under par.

Brandt Snedeker tried to keep pace, also scoring a 68. Last year's PGA Tour rookie of the year settled at 7-under for the tournament, one stroke behind Immelman. Lefthander Steve Flesch fired a 67 and is two more strokes back at 5-under.

Phil Mickelson (68), Stephen Ames (70) and Paul Casey (69) were in the clubhouse at 4-under going into the weekend. Prohibitive favorite Tiger Woods started the day at even-par. He birdied his first hole and was 1-under through five holes.

While some would say Immelman is living the dream this week, leading the Masters after 36 holes, he might argue that simply living is a dream.

Last December, it was discovered Immelman had a lesion in his diaphragm that was approximately the size of a golf ball.

The lesion was diagnosed as a calcified fibrosis tumor. Surgery removed the scary growth, which turned out to be benign.

"Obviously, this year is pretty special," Immelman said. "To shoot two 68s in the first two days is probably beyond my expectations. So, I'm pretty thrilled right now."

For a time, Immelman wasn't even sure he would be ready for Augusta.

"It took a couple of weeks before I could walk again," Immelman said. "I got a seven-inch incision across the right side of my back. Once I had worked my way through all the morphine and stuff they had me on ... it seemed to come back fairly quickly.

"It was about six weeks before I could hit a few chips and putts, another week or so before I could hit some balls and get out on the course."

Immelman hasn't needed any time to get comfortable this week. Over the two days, he has hit 25 of 28 fairways and needed just 54 putts, 27 for both rounds. On Friday, he birdied Nos. 17 and 18 coming in, abusing Augusta's demanding finishing holes.

"Those holes are probably not playing as tough as they were in the practice rounds," said Immelman, 28. "But any time you can make a birdie there, it's a good one."

As for Flesch, he credited his low round to an early tee time. Flesch's group, which included Johnson Wagner and 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler, was the second off the tee on Friday morning.

"There was a little lack of wind out there, which anytime out here is a very welcome," said Flesch, who is in his fourth Masters. "Playing early is always nice. One of the nicest things was the pace of play. We never saw the first group (ahead). Today we just kind of flew." (dpa)