Goosen, Cink share one-shot U.S. Open lead
TULSA, Okla. Retief Goosen has everything going his way in this U.S. Open a share of the lead heading into the final round on a course with a history of wire-to-wire winners. And Tiger Woods nowhere in sight.
Goosen saved par on six of his last eight holes yesterday at Southern Hills, while Stewart Cink recovered from a disastrous start with the kind of birdie binge expected from Woods.
The result was two leaders who don't have nearly the charisma or the credentials of Woods. What they do have is all that mattered a chance to win the U.S. Open.
Goosen's final scramble was an approach around the trees from the right rough for a two-putt par on the 18th, giving him a 69. Cink, the only player to break par at Southern Hills all three rounds, had a 67 and tied him for the lead.
"If I can win this tournament, obviously it would be the greatest feat of my career," said Goosen, a four-time winner on the Euro-pean tour. "I'm just going to try to enjoy every moment of it."
They were at 205, with plenty of proven players right behind, none named Woods. The question today is which one will end Woods' streak of four straight majors.
"I don't think many players are thinking about any streaks right now," Cink said. "If I win this tournament, I'll have satisfied my goal this year, and I'll have satisfied a goal that's been out there my whole career."
Woods hit too many bumps and missed too many putts to make any kind of a charge. He had a 69 his first round under par this week and was nine strokes behind. All he needs now is the greatest comeback in U.S. Open history to claim an unprecedented fifth straight major, a task that seems out of reach considering there are 22 other players in front of him.
"It's a tough spot," Woods said. "But you know what? If I go out there and play a good, solid round tomorrow, you never know."
The better odds belong to those a lot closer to the top.
Sergio Garcia twice answered bogeys with birdies on the back nine and had a 68, leaving him one stroke behind. Walking up the hill after finishing his round, he glanced back at the leaderboard and smiled. At 21, he is in great shape to become the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.
Also at 206 was '96 PGA champion Mark Brooks (70) and Rocco Mediate, who has never finished higher than 18th in a major but turned in a 67.
Phil Mickelson gets another chance, too. He spent his 31st birthday yesterday making the kind of mistakes that have cost him in other majors such as a three-putt from 8 feet on No. 13 to turn potential eagle into a par.
Still, he had a 68 and was only two strokes back, well within range.
"I shot 2-under par on Saturday at the U.S. Open, and I'm by no means disappointed," Mickelson said.
It surely didn't upset him that Woods was far behind. Mickelson, who finished third behind Woods at the Masters, even made light of the situation.
When asked whether Woods had a chance, he asked how far back he was 4-over 214, nine shots behind.
"I guess everybody at 4 over has a chance," he said.
The biggest U.S. Open comeback belongs to Arnold Palmer, who charged from seven strokes behind in 1960 to win at Cherry Hills.
Woods recited some other great rallies Johnny Miller with his 63 at Oakmont in 1973 to jump past a dozen players, and the greatest comeback in major championship history when Paul Lawrie made up 10 strokes at Carnoustie on final day of the 1999 British Open.
Lawrie had Jean Van de Velde. Woods doesn't look like he'll get that kind of help.
Goosen, a cool customer from South Africa, finished with nine straight pars, none of them particularly easy.
On his side is the history: wire-to-wire winners in four of the previous five majors played at Southern Hills.
Cink has momentum on his side.
Starting two shots behind on a brutally hot day temperatures approached 100 degrees Cink went bogey-double bogey and was in a free fall. He turned it around quickly with four straight birdies, and set himself up for a chance at his first major.
For a group of players who have rarely been in this position, the big test will come today on a course that is getting firmer and faster.
"You might see a lot of bogeys made by everybody," Cink said. "It's kind of hard to predict. But it will be exciting that's almost guaranteed."
Just about anything is possible in this U.S. Open, a far cry from last year when Woods won by 15 strokes and left everyone else fighting for second.
David Duval failed to take advantage of accessible pin positions and even three-putted for bogey from 12 feet. He finished at 71 and was at 210, along with Paul Azinger (69).
J.L. Lewis, tied for the lead with Goosen and Brooks after two rounds, staggered to a 77 and dropped out of sight. Of course, he was still one stroke better than Woods.