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Temperament key to Goosen's success

Nothing ever seems to faze twice U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, whether out on the course or away from it.

The last-day pressure coming down the stretch in a major championship, a bad bounce off a rock-hard fairway, having to contend with slick greens running as fast as a marble table top.

Even being blown out of his shoes by a lightning strike while playing as a 17-year-old amateur in his native South Africa.

World number six Goosen, one of the most quietly spoken players in the game, appears to take everything in his stride. The ideal temperament, in fact, for a champion golfer.

Goosen's five-shot victory at the European Open at the K Club in Ireland on Sunday was his second win in as many starts, coming just two weeks after he clinched his second U.S. Open crown at Shinnecock Hills.

While his K Club triumph became a relative cake walk on the last day after he had stretched his one-stroke overnight lead with three birdies in the first 10 holes, Shinnecock was very different.

There he had led by two going into the final round but the laidback South African had to survive a roller-coaster ride of mental and physical torture on a brutal course made even tougher by drying sunshine and freshening winds.

He also had to hold off a late charge by U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson over the closing holes.

Against mounting odds, the smooth-swinging Goosen kept his nerve and prevailed.

While American favourite Mickelson was being urged on by the passionate New York galleries, the South African maintained a cocoon of concentration. Significantly, he needed only 24 putts in that testing last round, including 11 one-putts.

Fellow South African Ernie Els, Goosen's playing partner on that Sunday, knows better than most what it takes to win a major.

"Retief's got the perfect temperament and a hell of a game. And he's a good front-runner," three-times major winner Els had said before the final round.

Els, who has known Goosen since the pair were talented 14-year-old amateurs, was proved right at Shinnecock Hills. His good friend appeared to show no sign of nerves as he closed with a 71 on a day when the average final-round score was 78.7.

Perhaps, though, this is hardly surprising for a man who, while a teenager, seemed to take a lightning strike in his stride.

"I was about 17 and was playing golf with a friend of mine and there was a thunderstorm and we stopped play," Goosen recalled. "We sort of went in a hiding area until we thought the lightning had passed because everybody started playing again.

"But one last lightning bolt hit this tree as I was walking past, and blew me out of my shoes. The next time I woke up I was in the hospital. I had some skin burns, but that recovered pretty quick.

"I did have a crack in my heart beat but, through exercising and working out in the gym, that's all recovered now," he added in a matter-of-fact manner.

Yet the ice-cool Goosen, widely known as the Goose, insists he does succumb to nerves while out on the course.

"When you stand over a putt, you are nervous," he told reporters at Shinnecock. "You are shaking on the inside like any other player does. And Tiger (Woods) does, too.

"It's just how you've learned to play under that sort of pressure, and in a way it sort of becomes natural. I feel like I can only play my best golf when I'm really under pressure."

For a man who has survived a lightning strike, the last-day pressures of a sporting event are probably put into their true context.

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