South African wins U.S. Open in playoff
|||Even in victory, Goosen had difficulty applying finishing touch|
By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service
TULSA, Okla. Sunday at No. 18, his three-putt bogey, was only a bad memory. This was the Retief Goosen of the first 71 holes of the U.S. Open, an unflappable grinder on his way to a championship.
Retief Goosen, whose disastrous three-putt on the 18th hole on Sunday cost him victory in regulation play, was a winner after beating Mark Brooks in a playoff yesterday.
He played with a calm few would have thought possible, one night after a missed two-footer on the 18th hole threatened to leave him with one of golf's all-time chokes.
"It's been a long week. It feels like a year," said the 32-year-old South African, who won $900,000 in his first tournament victory in this country. "I've learned a lot about myself this week. I've learned I can handle a lot of pressure."
While all eyes looked for further meltdown, he one-putted eight of the first 10 greens and had only one bogey in the first 16 holes, despite facing them all day. In the meantime, he built a five-stroke lead.
"I didn't feel bad about myself at all," Goosen said of any Sunday aftershocks. "I was proud of what I'd done so far this week. Today, I told myself, 'You're still playing well. You can do it.' I came here quite calm, quite relaxed."
He finished bogey-bogey a shaky finish evoking Sunday images but the matter was sealed by then. Brooks was too far back.
Goosen missed nine greens. But he relied again and again on his short game and his putter the club that betrayed him so on Sunday.
"Everything I looked at," he said, "I made."
Until the last holes, he continually out-maneuvered Southern Hills Country Club to stay away from trouble. He saved par from the bunker on No. 1, saved par after driving into the trees on No. 2, saved par from another bunker on No. 3, and again from a third bunker on No. 8.
"I don't know if I'd say (it was) demoralizing," Brooks said. "You expect guys to get it up and down and make putts. He kind of did every one of them. It certainly could have been different those first six holes."
When Goosen sank a sweeping 20-foot birdie putt on No. 9, while Brooks took a bogey when he drove under a tree, he led by three.
When Goosen rolled in a 15-foot birdie on No. 10, after another Brooks bogey, he led by five.
"That's when the tournament changed," Goosen said of those two holes.
After that, "I tried to keep my head down and stay cool."
Though he took three bogeys in the last seven holes, the lead was safe enough. A Brooks birdie on No. 17 cut the lead to three. And when Goosen missed the No. 18 green, then chipped to 30 feet, then left that six feet short for a bogey attempt, the slightest hint of another debacle was in the air.
"Just make your five," he said to himself, "and get out of here." Which he did. Just as he made a 10-footer to save par on No. 13, a six-footer to save par on No. 16. A man refusing to implode.
"That was quite a relief after what happened yesterday," he said of the clinching putt on No. 18. "I wasn't going to let it happen again. I kept my nerves together."
"He hit great shots, guessed right and he made a lot of putts on the back nine that were small but in the end they were big," said Brooks, who earned $530,000. "That's what it takes to win an Open."
Brooks had an early lead with a birdie on No. 3. But his hopes began a quick fade when he took a bogey on No. 7 to drop from a share of the lead.
His driving let him down, with too many second shots from bad places. Another bogey followed on No. 9, on No. 10, on No. 12. Four in six holes.
"I got punished in the rough today," Brooks said. "That was kind of a difference. I never could put any pressure on him."
The ghost of Sunday did. But it didn't matter.