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THE U.S. OPEN

Steady as He Goes

Goosen, seeking his third title, has a three-shot advantage

June 19, 2005|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

PINEHURST, N.C. — The 105th U.S. Open has become a numbers game, almost all of them black.

There were nine players under par after the first round, five after the second, and now there is one.

Retief Goosen, two-time winner of this event, left Pinehurst No. 2 on Saturday as the 54-hole leader and is the lone player under par entering today's final round.

Goosen shot one-under 69 on Saturday and is at three-under 207 overall, exhibiting what is becoming his signature fortitude on fast U.S. Open tracks -- closing with three birdies on his last five holes after stumbling to even par with a double bogey on the par-four 13th.

Joining Goosen in the final group, at even-par 210, is another "G" man, Jason Gore.

Contrary to what seemed basic, betting man's logic, Gore did not shrivel under the pressure and go belly and/or bogey up.

Rather, the former Pepperdine star and junior circuit journeyman shot two-over 72 and is three shots behind Goosen, tied with Olin Browne.

Gore closed with a birdie putt at 18, then followed his ball toward the hole and, a la Tiger Woods, punctuated the drop-in with a finger wag.

Gore, you could say, got caught up in the moment.

"I said to my caddie [Louis Pullen], 'Did I just point that ball in the hole?' " Gore recounted later.

Pullen said that he had.

"Gosh, I'm a cheese ball," Gore said of himself.

Michael Campbell and Mark Hensby are four shots behind Goosen at 211.

Tiger Woods had an exasperating day, his 72 framed with heaves and sighs and a lot of missed putts (he needed 36 to complete his round).

Incredibly, perhaps, Woods is at 213 and only six shots off the lead despite ranking 83rd -- dead last -- in putting.

"I'm one good round away from winning this championship; that's the way you have to approach it," he said.

Other third-round surprises included:

* Peter Jacobsen, 51, making a hole in one on the ninth hole and shooting one-under 69, leaving him at 214 and seven shots behind Goosen.

* Phil Mickelson shooting himself out of contention with a triple-bogey on the par-five fourth, the easiest hole, statistically, on the course. Mickelson made 16 pars and one birdie in a round of 72 and is tied for 35th at eight-over 218.

* Sergio Garcia, in the mix at even-par through 36 holes, shooting five-over 75.

* Vijay Singh, the world's second-ranked player, following two rounds of 70 with a four-over 74.

The biggest surprise, of course, continues to be Gore, a sectional qualifier with a substantial midsection.

Get this: When Goosen made his double at No. 13, Gore held the outright lead at a U.S. Open -- an almost preposterous thought for the 31-year-old unknown who lives in Valencia.

Gore's lead lasted six minutes, however, as he doubled the par-four 14th.

At that moment, there were no golfers left under par, which warranted a figurative cap tip to a course that has progressively, and predictably, gotten tougher as the week has worn on.

Goosen's three-under 207 is the highest 54-hole total at a U.S. Open since Payne Stewart was one-under 209 at Pinehurst in 1999.

"The golf course is all you want," Browne said after his 72.

"It's probably like facing Mike Tyson when he was 20 years old."

On a day when showers never came, meaning the course never softened, the black numbers on the scoreboard ate up the reds, leaving a Sunday of endless challenges and possibilities.

It's amazing, for instance, to think Jason Gore is three shots ahead of Woods.

"Jason is a great guy," Woods said.

"We go back to junior golf in our little peewee leagues in Southern Cal."

It also seemed improbable Goosen could get to the clubhouse in the red after he went from three under par to even in two holes.

Goosen showed steely resolve when he answered his bogey-double bogey stretch on No. 12 and No. 13 with consecutive birdies..

Goosen was in trouble again at the par-four 14th when knocked his tee shot in the bunker and faced an awkward lie. He lost his grip on his swing trying to get out, but landed his shot on the green and made birdie.

"Obviously hit a bad drive on 14, in the right trap, hit a six-iron to 30 feet and holed a good putt," Goosen said.

Nothing to it, right?

He followed with another birdie on No. 15 and, as quickly as he had lost control of his game, he regained it.

There's a reason why the South African always seems to have a stake in this event, namely that his cool, stoic demeanor seems to suit these difficult USGA setups.

"He's an ice-water-veined guy," Gore said of Goosen.

Goosen, 36, is the only player in the field to have shot par or better for his first three rounds.

Does anything rattle this guy?

"When the kids keep me awake at night, that bothers me," Goosen said, jokingly. "Last night they were awake quite a few times, so I didn't get a lot of sleep.... There are a lot of things that bother me more off the golf course."

Goosen is seeking to become only the sixth man to win at least three U.S. Open titles.

Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Willie Anderson each won four, and Hale Irwin is a three-time champion.

With a win, Goosen will become the seventh player to win consecutive U.S. Opens -- he won last year at Shinnecock Hills -- and the first since Curtis Strange in 1988 and '89.

"I don't want to think about it yet," Goosen said of winning. "We know it's going to be tough out there tomorrow."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Leaderboard

Leaders after the third round of the U.S. Open at the 7,214-yard, par-70, Pinehurst No. 2 course. Today's TV coverage begins at 9:30 a.m. on Channel 4:

LEADERS

*--* Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total to Par Retief Goosen 68 70 69 207 -3 Olin Browne 67 71 72 210 E Jason Gore 71 67 72 210 E Mark Hensby 71 68 72 211 +1 Michael Campbell 71 69 71 211 +1

*--*

OTHERS

*--* Player 1st 2nd 3rd Total to Par David Toms 70 72 70 212 +2 Tiger Woods 70 71 72 213 +3 Vijay Singh 70 70 74 214 +4 Corey Pavin 73 72 70 215 +5 Sergio Garcia 71 69 75 215 +5 Jim Furyk 71 70 75 216 +6 Davis Love III 77 70 70 217 +7 Phil Mickelson 69 77 72 218 +8 Ernie Els 71 76 72 219 +9 Mike Weir 75 72 75 222 +12

*--*

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