Golden Goosen

South African wins U.S. Open in playoff

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

TULSA, Okla. -- No longer the laughingstock of golf, Retief Goosen redeemed himself Monday and became a U.S. Open champion.

All but forgotten is that shocking three-putt from a mere 12 feet on the 72nd hole at Southern Hills, one of the greatest gaffes in golf history.

The lasting image is the soft-spoken South African rolling in a 6-foot bogey putt on the same hole to claim a two-stroke victory over Mark Brooks in the 18-hole playoff that should never have been necessary.

''I knew this time I had it in the bag,'' Goosen said. ''When that putt went in, it was just a great relief.''

Goosen easily could have joined the ranks of Jean Van de Velde, Scott Hoch and Doug Sanders, all authors of unspeakable collapses to let majors slip away.

''I felt like I needed to win this today because of what happened yesterday,'' Goosen said. ''Today, I showed myself something.''

He did it with rock-solid play through 16 holes to take a five-stroke lead over Brooks, a big enough cushion that he could allow for a few nervous moments.

With a three-stroke lead going into the last hole, Goosen came up short of the green and the ball rolled back some 30 yards down the fairway. Taking the safe route, he used a putter to belt it up the hill and onto the green, 25 feet short.

His par putt was well short, leaving Goosen in the same predicament he was Sunday, only with half the distance between him and the hole -- 6 feet away, two putts to win.

There was never a doubt.

The putt fell in the center of the cup, giving him an even-par 70 and his first major.

''I kept my nerves together, and I've finally done it,'' Goosen said.

Brooks, whose only major victory came in a sudden-death playoff at the 1996 PGA Championship, led by one stroke after five holes until he came unglued by missing fairways. Five times he had lies in the rough so nasty he couldn't reach the green.

The turning point came when Brooks bogeyed the ninth and 10th holes, and Goosen birdied both for two-shot swings that gave him a five-stroke lead -- a margin so comfortable that ultimately he could afford to three-putt the 18th and still win.

''It's just a golf tournament,'' Brooks said. ''It would have been nice to win, and I'll try to win again.''

His only consolation? He was lucky to be in a playoff at all.

''He hit two great shots yesterday on 18 and should have won,'' Brooks said. ''It was just one of those weird days. I got punished severely in the rough today. That was the difference.''

Goosen earned $900,000, nearly as much as his best season on the European tour, and became only the second international player in the past 20 years to win the U.S. Open. The other was fellow South African and good friend Ernie Els, who won in 1994 and 1997.

The U.S. Open is the only major that waits until Monday to stage an 18-hole playoff, which clearly was a big boost for Goosen.

His psychologist, Jos Vanstiphout, told him, ''What happened today is gone and will never come back.''

Goosen didn't watch TV highlights of the fictionlike finish -- his three-putt from 12 feet, Stewart Cink missing an 18-inch bogey putt that would have put him in the playoff, Brooks three-putting from 40 feet earlier.

Els, who won his first U.S. Open in a playoff that lasted 20 holes, called right after Goosen woke up and told him, ''It's going to be tough. Just play the game.''

Goosen took it from there. He is among the best in such situations, having once taken Tiger Woods to the 18th hole in the Match Play Championship, and tying a record in the Dunhill Cup by winning 10 consecutive stroke-play matches to lead South Africa to victory.

He never faced these circumstances, though -- having to play 18 holes for a title that should already have been his.

''I know now what Jean Van de Velde went through at Carnoustie,'' Goosen said, referring to the Frenchman's triple bogey in the 1999 British Open, which still ranks as golf's most memorable debacle. ''But I was just trying to put that behind me.''

Brooks led only once after a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 3 and was spurred on by a large gallery, some of them waving American flags. Goosen had to make great par saves on the first three holes, and then settled into a rhythm as Brooks' swing began to break down.

He tied Brooks with a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 6, then took the lead on the next hole when Brooks hit into the right rough with an iron off the tee.

The first U.S. Open playoff in seven years ended quickly.

Brooks' tee shot on No. 9 stopped a foot away from the base of an oak tree. Hearing the gallery roar for Goosen's approach to 15 feet, Brooks planted his right foot against the tree and tried to punch it out. He barely caught the top of the ball, and it dribbled into the heavy rough.

Goosen made his birdie and Brooks two-putted for bogey, a two-stroke swing that gave Goosen command going into the back nine.

Then came the final blow.

Goosen hit his iron into the left rough, and Brooks tried to cut off too much of the left-to-right dogleg and was blocked by trees, forcing him to lay up short of the green. He two-putted from 20 feet for another bogey, while Goosen's 12-footer down the slope trickled into the cup for another birdie, another two-stroke swing.

''Knockout!'' someone cried out from the gallery.

Indeed, it was.

All that was lacking was any drama, although that was just fine with Goosen. He had enough Sunday to last a lifetime.

Unlike some players who stumbled so badly and were never heard from again, at least Goosen was able to hoist the trophy when the championship ended.

At least now he can laugh.

''Yesterday was quite funny, actually,'' he said.

Goosen, a four-time winner in Europe, had been considered an underachiever in South Africa because he lacked the kind of championships won by Els, Gary Player and Bobby Locke.

''He's just coming into his own,'' Els said Sunday. ''Maybe this is his time.''

Els wished him well in a note written in Afrikaans on a pink piece of paper, and offered three reasons why Goosen would win the U.S. Open.

''His mind, his ability to hang in there, and he's not afraid,'' Els said. ''Those are the main things you need to win this.''

He left out one thing.

Goosen needed a second chance, and he made the most of it.



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