Trevor Immelman Trevor Immelman, looking for his first green jacket, takes two-shot lead into Masters final

The previous two PGA Tour Rookie of the Year winners looked like seasoned major-tournament veterans Saturday coming down the stretch on moving day at the Masters.

Playing in the final pairing Saturday, 2006 Rookie of the Year Trevor Immelman shot a 3-under-par 69 to lead by two strokes heading into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club. Playing partner and 2007 top rookie Brandt Snedeker overcame an Amen Corner disaster to card a 70 and trail Immelman on the leaderboard by two strokes.

Now, the two previously unheralded players are conceivably on the brink of a life-changing moment with the inside track to slipping on the green jacket on Sunday.

"All I can ask for myself is to go out there and play as hard as I can and believe in myself," Immelman told reporters. "I've got to believe in myself (Sunday), and hope for the best."

Snedeker's final-round approach sounds much the same.

"This is the ultimate test for us," Snedeker told the media. "We go out there on a tough day and we know it's set in front of us and we know we need to play a good round of golf if we want to win, and that's what's going to have to happen tomorrow.

"Everything I've grown up trying to do, everything I've practiced for, everything I've done, is in preparation for (Sunday)."

Immelman posted his third consecutive round in the 60s to lead at 11-under 205. Snedeker is two shots back at 9 under, while Steve Flesch (8 under), Paul Casey (7 under) and pre-tournament favorite Tiger Woods (5 under) are all in pursuit.

For the first time in his last 12 rounds at the Masters, Woods broke 70 at Augusta with a bogey-free round of 68. However, with the course damp and relatively vulnerable after a 40-minute rain delay, the world No. 1-ranked player might not have made up enough ground.

While Woods has never come from behind to win any of his 13 majors in the final round, he's undoubtedly the player Immelman and Snedeker will be keeping an eye on. That could especially be the case if the forecast, calling for bad weather Sunday at Augusta, comes to fruition.

"I'm sure he's going to be a factor," Snedeker said of Woods. "His name is going to be on the leaderboard somewhere (Sunday). It's going to be there on the back nine. You have to realize that Trevor and all of us in front of him, if we go out there and play a good round of golf, he's going to have to play an extremely great round of golf to beat us."

Both Immelman and Snedeker had some anxious moments Saturday, but were able to hold things together.

Immelman overcame a bogey at No. 4 with a birdie on the eighth hole to get his round back on track. He closed with birdies on holes 13, 14 and 18.

"Any time you're playing this course, it's difficult to hold it together - let alone the third round of the (Masters)," Immelman said. "But my game felt pretty sharp starting out, so that kind of eased the nerves a little.

"Once I made the birdie on (No. 8) and I felt like I got into a little bit of a rhythm."

However, Immelman's bid to join Gary Player as the only South Africans to win the Masters could've suffered a blow at No. 15 after his approach shot spun off the green and appeared to be tumbling down toward the water. But somehow, the ball came to rest on the bank and he wound up making par.

"I have no clue how the ball stayed up there," Immelman said. "But obviously, I'm thankful."

Snedeker said he felt fortunate to turn the tide after three consecutive bogeys on Nos. 11, 12 and 13. He responded with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15 and matched Immelman at No. 18 by sinking a 10-foot birdie putt.

"You've just got to realize this is a long tournament," Snedeker said. "I knew I was playing well. I felt like I was swinging good at it and had not hit too many bad shots to be honest with you.

"I knew I was rolling it great, so if I gave myself a few more chances."

Despite his prime position, Immelman said there's a long way to go.

"There are so many great golfers out there that if I start resting on a two-shot lead here, I'm not going to do very well," Immelman said. "I'm going to go out there ... and just think good, positive thoughts and give it my best shot. That's all I can ask from myself is just to play as hard as I can."

April 13, 2008

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