2004: No Sunday stroll - Goosen stares down scary Shinnecock, fends off Mickelson and his frenzied fans

Goosen wasn’t the people’s choice at Shinnecock Hills. Phil Mickelson was. New Yorkers treasure the left-hander as one of their own franchises, as if this is some sort of San Diego East or Phoenix East. That was apparent before and especially during their exciting Sunday duel at the 104th Open. But partisan spectators can’t will the ball in and out of holes. And so it came down to this: Goosen one-putted five consecutive holes through the 17th, and Mickelson three-putted the 17th from 6 feet for a double bogey that dropped him out of a tie and put him behind by two strokes, the final margin.

Long Island gasped and went quiet. You could have heard a putt drop. You could have heard yet another PGA Tour player complain about what they called ridiculously firm, fast greens. The fans felt unfulfilled, like Mickelson, and forget about the cute “ph” word play. They seemed to barely have enough energy or interest to applaud Goosen’s stroll up 18.

“A couple of times when you made a bogey, you’d hear, ‘Here comes Phil,’” said Goosen, who entered at No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I expect that people will be rooting for him and not me, which is quite natural. I’m quite used to it by now, being the underdog, and it doesn’t really bother me.”

Goosen is from South Africa, like Ernie Els. He served in his country’s Air Force, like Els. He also has homes in London and Orlando, Fla., like Els. And, now, his name also resides twice on the Open trophy, like Els.

Easy does it. Goose does it.

The difference is, Goosen makes a relaxed man like Els seem stressed out. You wouldn’t want to try to read his blank face in a poker game. His wife, Tracy, has said he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he hardly appears likely to win an Open Mike Night contest at a comedy club.

“I’m a shy guy,” he said. “I keep my head down and do my thing.”

Goosen walked around on Open weekend seemingly unfazed, like a Human Beta Blocker, like he was playing practice rounds. When he got up at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, he wasn’t exactly fretting the Open. Rather, he played with 1-year-old son Leo and watched two movies, Alien 3 and Ghostbusters. When he won, he didn’t quite bubble over.

“I’m not one who jumps up and down,” he said. “But inside I was very happy. I was proud to be on the trophy once. To be on it twice is unbelievable.”

Goosen shot 4-under-par 70-66-69-71–276 at this golf cathedral and became the 21st player to win multiple Open titles. He bagged his first in a playoff against Mark Brooks in 2001 at Southern Hills, where he could have avoided extra holes had he not three-putted the 72nd hole from 10 feet.

He is a much better driver than he was three years ago, but he won this time because of his shortest club. He closed the deal by making save after save with Eric Gagne reliability – from 3 feet for birdie at 11, 6 feet for par at 13, 20 feet for bogey at 14, 8 feet for par at 15, 12 feet for birdie at 16 and 2 feet for par at 17. He hit only five fairways and six greens in regulation but took only 24 putts.

“When you stand over a putt you are nervous,” Goosen actually said. “You are shaking on the inside like any other player does, and Tiger (Woods) does. It’s just how you’ve learned to play under that sort of pressure. It sort of becomes natural that you feel you can only play your best golf when really under pressure.”

He won with the same C-Groove putter of ’01 glory, a weapon he put back in play last month. He won without a swing coach and sports psychologist – odd for a top professional. A feel player who tries not to think about mechanics, Goosen stopped working with instructor Sam Frost, brother of Tour veteran David, 51⁄2 years ago. He shored up his mental game with Belgian shrink Jos Vanstiphout for three years but hasn’t felt the need to see him for 11⁄2 years.

“This week I felt comfortable standing over the ball,” said Goosen, his fitness and flexibility improved through working out the last three months. “I used to have trouble focusing. You just have to think you can hit it down the fairway and hit it on the green. But there are all the other little things that creep into you. You tend to look sideways and look where all the trouble is. Jos just worked on staying focused and trying to give you more self-belief.”

When you get hit by lightning at 15 and get the clothes burned off your back, golf heat doesn’t much scare you. Goosen emerged from the strike quieter, humbler and less temperamental. He says he once broke three clubs over nine holes at age 14 but stopped the destructive habit because the reshafting “got a little expensive.”

Clearly the lightning didn’t impair his putting nerves. Twelve one-putts on Open Sunday? On crazy-slick, dried-out, bumpy greens? He put on a clinic against short-game guru Dave Pelz’s prized student, starting with a 40-footer for birdie at the first that extended his lead to three strokes.

“At Southern Hills, I putted just as good, probably better,” said Goosen, who didn’t three-putt all week at Shinnecock. “That’s what you have to do at this tournament. I started seeing the lines very well (Saturday) and reading the break of the greens very well, and that helped me out today. The way the course was playing, it was going to come down to chipping and putting.”

Goosen also was aided by a comfort pairing. He played in the last twosome with buddy Els, an arrangement made possible when Mickelson missed a 4-foot par putt at 18 in the third round and fell back into a tie with Els at 3 under.

“Ernie was supportive on the back nine,” Goosen said. “A couple of times he would say, ‘Knock it in, let’s go.’”

Els never did go himself. In pursuit of his fourth major title, Els took Mickelson to the brink at the Masters before falling a shot shy. This time, he double-bogeyed the opening hole, where he drove into rough and chili-dipped a chip, en route to 80.

“I really thought Ernie was going to be the guy that I was going to have to watch out for today,” Goosen said. “But it turned out to be Phil.”

Mickelson, Open runner-up for the third time, played superbly except for the hiccup at 17. He showed again that his retooled, more controlled game is so much better suited for majors than in previous years. He ranked third in greens in regulation and eighth in driving accuracy, ahead of the winner in both, but Goosen took five fewer putts.

“It’s just as disappointing as it was thrilling to win a Masters,” said Mickelson, foiled in his attempt to become the sixth player to win the first two legs of the modern Grand Slam. “To come very close, to play so hard for 72 holes and play better than anybody but one guy is disappointing.”

Goosen and Mickelson each closed with 71, a stroke shy of Robert Allenby’s Sunday best, and were the only players to crack par for 72 holes. Straight-driving Jeff Maggert finished five shots back in third place, his seventh top 10 in 14 Open starts.

They survived on a day on which the mean was 78.7, the Open’s highest final-round average since 1972 at Pebble Beach and the second-highest since World War II. The Sunday field hit 48 percent of

fairways and 38 percent of greens in regulation.

“They made us look like idiots,” Allenby said.

First the Massacre at Winged Foot, where Hale Irwin won with 7 over par 30 years ago. Now the laughter at Shinnecock. No one broke par Sunday and only three did in the third round.

“I played some of the best golf of my life and putted better than ever and still couldn’t shoot par (in Round 4),” Mickelson said.

He was among the lucky ones. Many others felt the sting of goofy golf experiences. The hump-backed green on the 189-yard seventh especially was a problem on the weekend. In the third round, it yielded one birdie and was the course’s most difficult hole Saturday, averaging 3.49 strokes.

More problems came Sunday. Bo Van Pelt six-putted the fourth. Chris Riley hit a putt that rolled off the first green and into the crowd en route to a triple-bogey 7. Billy Mayfair shot 47-42–89. And Kevin Stadler, in the first twosome, hit a 2-foot putt that rolled off the seventh green and into a bunker en route to triple bogey. That green, among others, subsequently was watered after every couple of groups passed.

“It was ridiculous,” said Stadler, a larger version of his father, past Masters champion Craig. “Saturday and Sunday were the longest, most miserable days in my life. The last 10 holes I just wanted to walk off.”

Jerry Kelly and Mark Calcavecchia were among Tour veterans who panned the USGA for an over-the-top setup, a criticism also leveled in 1998 at the Olympic Club and in 2002 at Bethpage Black, among others.

“They’ve done it again,” Kelly said. “They’ve topped themselves this year. . . . They’re trying to put the blame, because of their stupidity, on somebody doing a good job. But it’s not the superintendent’s fault. This is the USGA’s fault, and it is every year...I think they’re ruining the game. They’re ruining the tournament. This isn’t golf. Period.”

Said Calcavecchia: “The greens were dead from the start (Sunday). It’s the USGA’s fault. . . . It’s not the first time they’ve done this and it won’t be the last. And on that note, I need a beer.”

Those in charge apparently underestimated the moisture-sucking effect an overnight wind had on the greens. Driver said the USGA, in hindsight, should have started syringing the greens earlier Sunday.

“This wind brought dry, hot air and dried out the course,” Driver said. “The course played more difficult than we expected.”

Some famous faces had interesting weeks as well.

David Duval, in his first Tour action since October, pronounced himself happy and blessed

as a newlywed, and called his opening 83 an “enormous victory.” The former world No. 1 followed with an 82, said he accomplished his goal of having fun, indicated he’ll play in the British Open and cited a rekindled desire to play again.

Nor was it the best of weeks for caddie Steve Williams and his boss, Woods. Williams yelled at a photographer on the practice range Wednesday, kicked a snapper’s lens on No. 10 Friday and grabbed a camera and carried it across the tee on No. 2 Sunday. The latter two incidents came while Woods was making practice swings.

Woods, too, had a problem with a photographer in a practice round, stopping his downswing and then picking up his ball and walking down the fairway. The main event wasn’t much better. He never contended, made only five birdies, closed with his highest Open score as a pro (76), tied for 17th at 290 and extended his major winless streak to eight.

While Woods finished, Goosen and Mickelson dueled dramatically. Goosen actually said he felt “on edge” on the front nine but relaxed more on the back “because I knew it was just me and him.” Mickelson, in the pairing just ahead, played catch-up most of the final round. He pulled to within two shots with an 18-foot birdie putt at 13, but Goosen answered with an amazing scrambling par, going from right hay to trampled-down left weeds to a 6-foot save. Lefty finally pulled even at 3 under with a 10-foot birdie putt at 15, then went up one with a 6-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th. He had momentum and the lead, and Goosen had been shaky until reaching the greens.

But Goosen pulled even with a 12-footer at 16, and Mickelson missed the green at the 179-yard

17th for the fourth day in a row. His blast from the left bunker carried farther than he had intended and ended up 6 feet above the hole. His downhill, downwind putt missed left and went 5 feet by, and he missed the comebacker on the right.

“It broke right to left, but the wind was left to right,” Mickelson said of the first putt. “So I played it straight and the wind took it more to the right than I thought. I hit it very easy, but when the wind got a hold of it, it wouldn’t stop.”

Until then, spectators had given Mickelson periodic updates on Goosen’s temporary troubles. The words and the leaderboard didn’t seem to jibe.

“I did have someone yell, ‘Retief is in the rough, Retief is in the bunker,’ ” Mickelson said. “But I’d look at the scoreboard and see he made par. I don’t know if I was getting good information or not.”

The reports were good. But not as good as Goosen’s putting.

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