PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The archives are littered with stories about ailing golfers who somehow excel. Retief Goosen and his bum back merely constitute the latest chapter in an endless book.
Goosen on Friday withdrew from next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, instead deciding to get platelet-rich plasma injections in his bulging L-3 disk Wednesday in Virginia Beach, Va. On Saturday, though, he performed as if he were perfectly healthy, shooting a 6-under 65 and moving into a tie for the Transitions Championship 54-hole lead with Jim Furyk.
Goosen, winner here at the Innisbrook Copperhead course in 2003 and ’09, needs a high finish here to get into the Masters. He’s currently No. 52 in the world; the top 50 through the Palmer tournament get invites to Augusta, where Goosen finished second twice and third twice from 2002 to ’07.
The two-time U.S. Open champion has had back issues for the past three years, and they have worsened since last summer, when he missed the British Open and PGA. The back flared up again about three weeks ago after he kicked a soccer ball around with his son.
“Hopefully the back will be ready if I’m in Augusta,” he said.
Goosen, 43, said he almost withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship last week because of the pain. On Friday, he said, he resigned himself to the fact he wouldn’t make it to Augusta National, his favorite American course.
He said his leg often has gone “lame” when he has bent over during the past year. Hence, he has compensated by putting more weight on his right side when addressing shots and putts. His miss has been to the right, the result of hanging back on his right side.
“Lack of practice has been the most frustrating thing,” Goosen said.
He spends about 45 minutes before rounds working with a trainer, getting deep-tissue therapy and doing core exercises.
So far, so good this week. His scores have gotten better daily, from 69 to 68 to 65. His back, though, felt better in the middle round than it did in Saturday’s low round.
His third round also illustrated, again, that putting can make up for all kinds of ailments. Goosen made four birdie putts from 16 feet or longer Saturday: 23 feet at No. 6, 16 feet at the ninth, 21 feet at No. 15 and 17 feet at the 16th.
The run led to his best score ever at Copperhead and a return visit to the interview room.
“(2009) was probably the last time I’ve been in the media center,” the low-key Goosen cracked. “A lot of you guys have aged a lot since I’ve seen you.”