Putting the key factor in Goosen's victory
As happens so often not only in major championships but in any golf tournament, putting was the key to Retief Goosen's victory on Sunday in the 104th U.S. Open.
But Goosen was not just good or very good on the brown greens of Shinnecock Hills in the final round, he was brilliant. Deadly. At times unbelievable.
While Shinnecock had been very difficult in Saturday's third round, on Sunday it was downright brutal and nasty. Green, the predominant color at any golf course, was in short supply. Many of the fairways looked purplish-brown, as did the greens.
The scoring in the final round abysmal. No one broke par, and only player, Robert Allenby, could manage a round of even-par 70. In all, 27 players, including world No. 2 Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia, failed to break 80.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods carded a 76 and then criticized the USGA.
"It's terrible at our national championship they lost control of the golf course," Woods said. "There's nothing wrong with a guy being under par; there's nothing wrong with that. If they play well, they deserve to be under par, but not like this, this is not the way it's supposed to be played."
Despite the course, or perhaps because of it, Goosen and Masters champion Phil Mickelson quickly separated themselves from the field.
Goosen, the 2001 winner of the U.S. Open in playoff over Mark Brooks, held the upper hand for much of the day, and he did so on the strength of his putting on the incredibly slippery poa annua greens.
At the very first hole, Goosen holed about a 40-footer for an excuse-me birdie. It was omen of things to come.
The South African one-putted 11 times on Sunday, including a crucial a par save at the 17th, the hole that Mickelson had just three-putted from five feet for a double-bogey.
For the round, Goosen needed only 24 putts, his lowest total for any of the four days. It was a good thing his putting was so spot-on, because the rest of his game was not. He hit only five fairways and six greens.
"That's what you need to do at these tournaments," Goosen said. "Obviously these greens were unbelievably fast and drying out and getting bumpy. To keep holing good putts was the key.
"I think the way the course is playing, it's important to save pars, and I was just playing for pars, and I keep telling myself keep playing for pars and you can win this event, and it turned out that way."
Time and again, Goosen's putter was his savior.
At the par-3 11th, he stiffed his tee shot and made a four-footer for a rare birdie.
At the 13th, Goosen hung his drive in the thick rough on the right, hit his second shot almost dead left into the gallery. He somehow crafted a wedge shot that stopped eight feet from the hole and walked off the green with a par when bogey had seemed like the best he could have done.
Then came the 14th, where Goosen's luck appeared to have run out. From the middle of the fairway he hit an awful 9-iron approach into a buried lie in the right-side bunker. His shot from the sand just managed to find the rough surrounding the bunker, and double bogey entered the equation when he knocked the ball 25 feet past the hole.
Goosen calmly drained the putt for bogey, but now shared the lead with Mickelson, who had birdied the 15th.
"I was stuck in between clubs," Goosen said of the 14th. "I wasn't sure either to hit a soft hard wedge or a soft 9, and I decided to go with the soft 9 and came out of it slightly and it plugged in the trap. I was quite determined on that putt to make it. I felt like I didn't really deserve to make double here."
Then Goosen saved par with another one-putt at the 15th and holed a 12-footer at the par-5 16th to tie Mickelson, who also had birdied the 16th.
"I felt like that putt was giving me a chance in the last couple of holes," Goosen said of the 16th. "I thought it was going to come down to the 18th hole. I didn't really expect Phil to make a double at 17."
After another one-putt par at the 17th, Goosen two-putted the 18th for his two-shot victory.
When his final putt dropped on the 18th, Goosen tipped his hat to the hole, in acknowledgment, he said later, that he had won on Sunday and did not have to return on Monday as he did at Southern Hills three years ago.
"I wasn't going to three-putt this green again, and it was nice to see that putt go in," Goosen said. "It was a small relief. You know you've done it and it's a great feeling.
"I'm not really somebody that jumps up and down as we know, but on the inside I was just, like, so happy."
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