18th puts choke hole on 101st U.S. Open
By Doug Ferguson
TULSA, Okla. Retief Goosen had everything but the trophy.
Retief Goosen of South Africa stared in disbelief after his two-foot putt for par and the U.S. Open championship slid past the treacherous 18th hole at Southern Hills.
Tiger Woods was long gone.
All that stood between the South African and his first U.S. Open was 12 feet and two putts, as easy as a quarterback taking a knee.
What followed was hard to believe, bringing back painful images of Jean Van de Velde, Greg Norman, Scott Hoch and a host of others who squandered away championships in ways few could have imagined.
Goosen rammed his 12-foot birdie putt past the 18th hole, then badly missed the 2-footer for par coming back, giving Brooks a second chance today and the U.S. Open its first playoff in seven years.
"Golf is a very cruel game at times," said Brooks, himself the victim of a three-putt bogey on the 18th just 30 minutes earlier. "I feel bad for him."
Calm and cool during a pressure-packed day at Southern Hills, Goosen finally showed some emotion when the par putt slid by on the right and the U.S. Open trophy slipped through his fingers.
He raised back, put his hands on his hips and stared in disbelief.
"Obviously, I'm not happy about what happened, but what can I do? I'm not going to go jump out of my hotel room," Goosen said.
He steadied himself to make the most important of all the third one to give himself an 18-hole playoff round with Brooks today, and a chance for redemption.
"It's golf, you know?" Goosen said. "Tomorrow is another day."
Not for Cink. After barely missing a 15-foot par putt, he missed the second from 18 inches that he figured would cost him only money not a berth in a playoff.
"It was really hard to concentrate on that second putt," Cink said. "I really didn't think it meant much. I had put all my emotions and energy into the first one."
It wasn't quite as wild as Van de Velde taking triple bogey to squander the British Open at Carnoustie in 1999, but it was no less shocking.
The long and short of it
There have been other short misses on the final hole Hoch from 2 feet in a playoff at the 1989 Masters, Doug Sanders from about the same distance in the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews against Jack Nicklaus.
Add Goosen to the list unless he can redeem himself today.
Goosen (71) and Brooks (70) finished at 4-under 276, while Cink failed to break par for the first time this week with his 72 and was at 275.
Rocco Mediate had a 72 and was another stroke back. No one else broke par at Southern Hills, a course that featured the longest hole in U.S. Open history and will be remembered for two of the shortest putts ever missed.
Yesterday's shocking turn of events was almost enough to forget that Woods' streak in the major championships finally ended at four. He shot a 69 and finished in a tie for 12th.
It will be the first U.S. Open playoff since 1994, when Ernie Els defeated Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie at Oakmont.
"I look forward to tomorrow," said Goosen, trying to become the first international player since Els in 1997 to win the U.S. Open.
The same could not be said for some of the 10 players that were separated by six shots when the final round started under hot, sunny skies.
By the time the leaders got to the back nine, it was a three-man race just not the three anyone expected.
Woods failed to provide any theatrics other than reaching the 642-yard fifth hole the longest in U.S. Open history in two shots. He finished at 283, ending his streak of 40 consecutive stroke-play tournaments under par.
The surprise, though, was who didn't make a run.
For the sixth time in his career, Phil Mickelson was within two strokes of the lead going into the final round of a major. So much for experience. He was hanging around until hitting his ninth tee shot toward the first fairway, then three-putting from 4 feet on No. 13.
"I'm not going to beat myself up over this," Mickelson said after a 75.
Sergio Garcia was poised to become the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923. Instead, the 21-year-old Spaniard went 12 holes before making a birdie and knocked himself out of the hunt by missing a 3-foot bogey putt on No. 9.
David Duval had an outside chance until making bogey on the first hole and going downhill from there. He played the weekend in 5 over, giving him his fourth straight top 10 in a U.S. Open, but nowhere closer to his first major.
With those three wasting their chances and Woods on his way home, the gallery sought out the only guys who seemed capable of handling Southern Hills.
And what a finish they provided.
Brooks surged into the lead with two birdies on the back nine, two big breaks out of the trees and hardly any mistakes until the end. He finally surrendered on the 18th, knocking his 40-foot birdie putt 8 feet by the hole, and hanging the next one on the right side of the lip.
"It's unfortunate to finish with a three-putt," he said. "But I know a lot of people who have missed important putts, and I'll live to play another day."
Hold that trophy
Good news for Brooks that day is today.
Goosen was hardly the model of a U.S. Open champion the way he sprayed tee shots into the woods and high grass. But he refused to quit, the best trait of all in this championship, and reclaimed the lead with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 15.
Cink was quietly lurking until the biggest shot of his career a wedge that landed 15 feet behind the pin on No. 17 and spun back to 2 feet for a birdie, tying him with Goosen at 5 under.
Then they came to the 18th, perhaps the toughest closing hole in golf.
"I figured I was done," Brooks said. He was wrong.
The playoff starts at noon (EDT), stroke play for 18 holes in which only one thing is certain. The trophy won't be awarded until the last putt is in the hole.