Goosen good enough

South African stays cool to edge Mickelson

Posted: Monday, June 21, 2004

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. Retief Goosen didn't get the cheers, just the U.S. Open trophy.

In a sterling display of clutch putting and great escapes, Goosen captured his second U.S. Open in four years Sunday at Shinnecock Hills by one-putting the final six greens and letting Phil Mickelson self-destruct.

In the toughest final round at the U.S. Open in 32 years, Goosen closed with a 1-over 71 for a two-shot victory made possible when Mickelson three-putted from 5 feet on the 17th just as the raucous New York gallery was ready to send him off in pursuit of the Grand Slam.

Instead, it was Goosen who picked up his second major, along with validation as a tough customer under the most stifling pressure.

Mickelson, who won the Masters for his first major by shooting 31 on the back nine at Augusta National, looked like he might even bring Shinnecock to its knees with awesome control and three birdies over a four-hole stretch that gave him his first lead of the day.

''I fought hard all day,'' Mickelson said. ''I played some of the best golf I ever played.''

But he looked like the Mickelson of old when the U.S. Open was on the line.

From the left bunker on the par-3 17th, Mickelson blasted out to 5 feet, straight down the hill, the wind at his back making the crucial putt feel even faster.

It missed left and kept going, almost as far away on the other side. He missed that one, too, a double bogey that left him two shots behind with one hole to play.

Goosen also found the bunker, but he knocked it out to 3 feet and slipped it in the left corner for par.

When Mickelson failed to birdie the final hole, Goosen needed three putts from just on the fringe to win.

''I just didn't want to three-putt the 18th again, that's all,'' Goosen said.

He rolled in a 4-foot par putt, removed his cap and shook it at the hole.

Three years ago, Goosen had the U.S. Open at Southern Hills all wrapped up until he three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole and fell into a playoff.

He won handily the next day, showing then to be unflappable.

He was just as steady Sunday on a crusty, wind-blown afternoon in which he escaped from trouble time and again.

''Boy, did Retief play well,'' Mickelson said. ''He played solid and deserved to win.''

The gallery finally gave the 35-year-old South African his due.

Goosen's brilliant short game, from his amazing par save on the 13th to his clutch birdie on the 16th to regain a share of the lead, his heroics were met with mild applause.

Mickelson was greeted with deafening applause from tee to green, as if the crowd tried to will him to the second leg of the Grand Slam. But he couldn't shake Goosen, or his past demons around the green.

For three days, Mickelson made almost every par putt that mattered.

On the 17th, it all came undone.

''I really don't know what to say there,'' said Mickelson, who wound up with a 71. ''I hit the putt pretty easy. It was downwind. And when the wind gets ahold on these greens, it keeps going.''

Goosen finished at 4-under 276, the lowest winning score in the three U.S. Opens held at Shinnecock Hills, and earned $1.125 million.

Making it even more impressive were the brutal conditions that didn't allow anyone to break par in the final round. The average score Sunday was 78.7, the highest for a final U.S. Open round since 1972 at Pebble Beach.

Jeff Maggert shot 72 to finish third, picking up a nice check and valuable Ryder Cup points.

Ernie Els, who played in the final group with Goosen, made double bogey on the first hole and slid all the way to an 80 for his worst score in a U.S. Open.

He wasn't alone.

Tiger Woods didn't make a birdie until his final hole to salvage a 76, his highest score in the U.S. Open as a pro. He finished at 290, the sixth straight major he played over par. He now has gone two full years without a major still two majors short of his longest drought, but nowhere near the guy who won two years ago down the road at Bethpage.

The only consolation for Woods this week?

He will remain No. 1 in the world, by a margin that shrinks every week.

But then, Shinnecock Hills was tough on everyone, and horror stories came from all corners.

Jerry Kelly shot 81 and blistered the U.S. Golf Association for the way the course was set up.

''Get off your high horse and be good to the game,'' Kelly said. ''A great golfer will win the Open, whether it's 12 (under par) or whether it's even.''

On that there is no argument.

Goosen joined Woods as the only players to win two majors since 1999, and he is especially tough in the major that demands near perfection.

''Everybody struggled,'' Goosen said. ''The course wasn't easy and, you know, I'm just lucky to be on top.''

It didn't take long for this to turn into a two-man race.

Goosen looked impervious to the pressure, making one testy par putt after another. Mickelson was clutch, too, answering a sloppy bogey on No. 3 with an 18-foot birdie on the fourth, then making his share of pivotal pars.

When they made the turn, they were the only players under par.

Both made bogey on No. 10 by hitting above the hole and taking three putts. Goosen took command on the tough little 11th with a tee shot that bounced and rolled and turned and finally stopped 4 feet away for birdie.

Back and forth they went, Mickelson trying to answer with birdie, Goosen hanging on for par.

But Goosen, as always, was up to any challenge.

He saved par from the bunker on No. 15 with an 8-foot putt. He holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th to stay in the game. Then came the decisive two holes, and the Goose was simply golden.



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