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THE U.S. OPEN | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Campbell's Up to Par

Goosen Left to Think Big Dive, Not Big 5

June 20, 2005|THOMAS BONK

PINEHURST, N.C. — Somewhere in the dust and the dirt and the pine needles and the sand and the uneven grass, Retief Goosen lost the U.S. Open. He fumbled away the sterling silver trophy that everyone figured was his to take home, as long as he showed up Sunday.

It was a steep tumble that Goosen took at Pinehurst No. 2, his chance at victory and the prestige of history disappearing like all those golf balls that rolled off the greens, down the slopes and off into U.S. Open oblivion.

This was supposed to be a coronation for Goosen, the unflappable one, who instead proved very flappable indeed. His fourth round was a messy 11-over par 81 that dropped him out of the top 10 and into a tie for 11th, the three-shot lead he held to begin the day nothing more than a distant memory, a footnote.

Some will remember Goosen's round as an epic disaster. It was the second-worst final-round score by a U.S. Open leader in 94 years, since Fred McLeod shot an 83 in 1911. Goosen has company in Gil Morgan, who also shot an 81 in the fourth round of the 1992 Open at Pebble Beach.

Hazy sunshine filtered through the tall pine trees at the Pinehurst No. 2 course when Goosen walked out of the locker room to talk about what happened.

Typically understated, the first word out of his mouth was "unfortunate."

The immediate reaction is that it didn't quite seem to be the proper word for the occasion.

It's unfortunate when there aren't any parking places left in the company lot or they've run out of the dinner special or the newspaper got wet before you could read it.

When you have a three-shot lead after three rounds and shoot 81 on the last day of the U.S. Open, what happened should run more along the lines of, say, devastating.

But then, something unexpected happened. The more he talked, the more Goosen revealed of himself, a behavior that isn't exactly something in which he specializes, at least in public.

He spoke softly and evenly, and there was no emotion in his words, only what seemed to be a growing sense of sadness, as if it was just beginning to dawn on him what had happened.

"I messed up badly," he said. "I obviously threw this away."

It wouldn't be golf if there weren't bad days, rounds that made you cringe, drives that flew sideways, chips that went nowhere, putts that steered clear of the holes.

And so, for Goosen, it was one of those days.

The problem is that it couldn't have come at a worse time.

His three-shot lead seemed unassailable, and when he stepped to the first tee, his lead over Tiger Woods was eight shots. Unfortunately, after that, Goosen began to swing the club, and nothing good came of that.

He double-bogeyed the second hole and bogeyed the third hole, and his lead was gone.

He bogeyed the fifth, sixth and ninth, and made the turn with a 41.

Soon after, he became an afterthought.

On the back side, he bogeyed five consecutive holes, the 12th through the 16th, a stretch of futility that ended any chance Goosen had to even think he could rebound.

There were many problems, including his inability to make putts that counted. Or, as Goosen said, to save his life.

"That was basically the end of the story," he said.

If things had been different, it could have been the beginning of another story, one that starred Goosen himself in a much more visible role. If he had closed the deal Sunday, there would have been calls for a reshuffling of the Big Five. Goosen would have been on the move, and the direction would have been up.

Ernie Els has been in a semi-funk and hasn't done much lately to impress. His tie for 15th at Pinehurst would be considered another indication. Phil Mickelson, who tied for 33rd, could be seen as engaging in slippage of his own.

Woods and Vijay Singh are safe in their spots, but if Goosen had won his third U.S. Open and his second in two years, he might have leapfrogged Mickelson or Els or possibly both in the hierarchy of the Big Five.

A Goosen victory would have vaulted him into the really Big Time and further cemented his reputation as one of the great players of the decade, certainly on the level of Mickelson and Els in major victories -- because Mickelson has one major title and Els' most recent one came three years ago at the British Open.

But after Sunday, that's no longer the working scenario. Goosen said he would be back another day, and maybe he can see some better results, because he has already come face to face with some of the worst.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

One lost day

How Retief Goosen's final round compared with his first three in the U.S. Open (*per round):

*--* 1st 3 Final Double bogeys 1 1 Bogeys 6 9 Pars 36 8 Birdies 11 0 Putts *29 36 Greens regulation *69% 39%

*--*

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