Imada optimistic after Masters

My first Masters experience is in the books, and I'm pretty much exhausted. I played well again Sunday and finally got a few more putts to drop, just not enough. I shot 3-under 69 for a total of 2-under for the week -- good for T-20. I can't say I'm thrilled with my finish because you can look back and analyze putts that could have been made, etc., but I drove the ball great and kept myself in every hole the entire week. I didn't make one double-bogey, which means I was controlling the ball and giving myself chances.

I got off to a good start with a birdie on No. 2 today, only to have another 3-putt at No. 3. I got it back on No. 7 and closed the front at 1-under and even-par for the tournament. I told you all on Saturday that I was focused on trying to earn my way back next year through a top 16 finish, and after nine holes I knew I needed to step on the gas a bit. That started with hitting driver at No. 10 instead of a 3-wood, which I hit every other day.

That move paid off with a 5-foot birdie. I assumed I needed to get to at least 4-under to even have a shot and 5-under par would probably be the number to get inside of the top 16.

I've been out here long enough and played in enough majors to know that you can't just be aggressive and take stupid risks, but I was determined to be smart while going down swinging. I had a chance to get to the par-5 13th hole in two, and with about 215 yards to cover the front, I decided to lay up. I didn't hit the best wedge shot and settled for par. I parred No. 14, too.

I hit one of my very few poor drives of the event at the par-5 15th hole and didn't give myself a chance to capitalize. I knew when I stood on the 16th tee at 1-under that I needed birdies on the last three holes to have a chance. I made a 20-footer at 16 for birdie but hit a poor drive at 17. I closed out with pars on the last two holes to shoot my best round of the week, but fell just a bit short of getting a return invite.

One quick note about the golf course: We never got the crusty quick, firm conditions I've seen and read about. The pins were accessible, not easy by any means, but you could hit good shots and get rewarded fairly.

It's obvious the committee wanted to see some fireworks and stray from the recent trend. We had great weather, and it added up to excitement everywhere. And yes, I heard a few noises behind me from one group in particular.

I played with Trevor Immelman on Sunday and we had a good time. I must say it was a fun experience to play with the defending champ.

The fans treat everyone with respect, but there's just something about having a green jacket that the fans connect with, respect and root for. He got receptions and a nice ovation on 18 as we approached. Hopefully I will be able to tell you all from experience what that situation is like someday. I can imagine for him it was a difficult week, and there are a lot of expectations and extra duties that I'm sure he wasn't too disappointed to have.

I wanted to do a bit better, but I also have to look at the big picture of the week: First, the overall experience. I was an 8-foot par putt from not even being around the last two days. I'm very tired; the shot-by-shot grind on this golf course is something unique that we don't see very often. I've talked all week about the challenge of the greens and contours. The entire golf course is a chess match, and each shot sets up the next; if you make a small mistake, you pay.

I know I can play this golf course well; I'm not going to come out and say I'll win a Masters, but I know that given a few putts and a little more familiarity, I can contend here before my career is done.

That isn't something I could have told you -- or myself -- before this week because I just didn't know. I will be trying the rest of the season to get back to this place 51 weeks from now. I was telling some folks earlier in the week that if I play in this event for the next 20 years, I will never see myself being less excited to play. It's my favorite golf course, my favorite event and it is different -- it is special.

I'm taking next week off before probably playing in New Orleans and getting ready for a big stretch of events. I appreciate all of you who have tuned in this week and read my thoughts on one of the best weeks of my professional career. I hope you all enjoyed the week, the drama as much as I did. As a player and a fan it was nice to hear the roars return on Sunday.

Ryuji Imada joined the PGA Tour in 2005. You can visit his official Web site for more information.