By Jeff Babineau
As much as Retief Goosen prides himself on ballstriking and his much-improved driving, it was his ability to scramble that delivered his second U.S. Open title in four years.
With Shinnecock Hills’ temperamental winds kicking up and a major championship on the line, Goosen hit only five fairways and six greens Sunday, yet still managed to turn in one of the best rounds of the day. Considering the field’s fourth-round scoring average of 78.7 – the second-highest in an Open final round since World War II – Goosen’s 1-over 71 should go down as one of the clutch final rounds in U.S. Open history.
From the 11th to 16th holes, Goosen holed five consecutive pressure putts to keep pace with Phil Mickelson, who was on his own hot run in the group ahead. Goosen made an incredible par save at the par-4 13th from the matted-down rough left of the fairway, then rolled in a 20-footer for bogey at the 14th just as Mickelson was about to make birdie up ahead to tie him at 3 under. At 15, he made an 8-footer to save par from a bunker; at 16, he poured in a 12-footer to regain a share of the lead.
On a day better suited for kite flying, and on a golf course harder than calculus, it’s no wonder Goosen and Mickelson (71) had the wherewithal to hang in there and avoid disaster. Both players rank among the top 4 on the PGA Tour in scrambling. For his part, Mickelson hit 18 greens total on the weekend after hitting 29 in tamer conditions in the first two rounds. And only in his opening 70 did Goosen hit more than 11 greens. Making pars took some creativity.
Goosen said he may have putted as well in this Open victory as he did at Southern Hills three years ago, and he relied on an old friend for his putting prowess. The same C-Groove putter from Yes! Golf that helped carry him to his first U.S. Open trophy in 2001 at Southern Hills – where he one-putted eight of his first 10 greens in a Monday playoff – returned to his bag last month at the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany. For weeks, his ballstriking has been crisp – he led all players at The Memorial in greens in regulation (55) – and he knew if he could get his putting to come around, he’d contend.
“I started going with all these putters that have all the lines and stuff on it, and I just got so confused with all the lines I just went back to something where I just have to line up the face,” Goosen said. “I went back to it at the Deutsche Bank, and felt I was putting well but just not making anything. At the Memorial, I think I had 134 putts (124 officially) for the week and Ernie (Els, who beat him by 12) had 100. . . . so I knew my ballstriking was good. It all comes down to ballstriking and making the crucial putts.”
Of the players finishing in the top 15, only Fred Funk (105) had fewer putts than Goosen’s 111, and Funk hit nine fewer greens. Goosen did not have a single three-putt. He said he liked Shinnecock Hills from the start because it reminded him of two favorite things: the British Open, because of its linksy condition, and Southern Hills, because of its elevated tees and greens.
Goosen had one other edge on his closest pursuer: He played the last two holes in even par on the weekend – four shots better than Mickelson. It was enough to bring him home with two to spare, and this time he finished the job on a Sunday.