Goosen stays steady, wins Open

Updated: June 22, 2004, 4:00 PM ET
Associated Press

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Everyone was ready to crown the new king at the U.S. Open.

Retief Goosen
Retief Goosen enjoys the spoils of his title -- the championship trophy.

What they got was a familiar finish.

First came Phil Mickelson, sending the New York gallery into hysteria with an improbable charge, only to muff a chance to win his second major with a three-putt from 5 feet to make double bogey on the 71st hole.

Then came Retief Goosen, unflappable as ever, closing with six consecutive one-putt greens to validate himself as one tough customer no matter how tough the conditions.

With steely nerves and great escapes, Goosen survived Shinnecock Hills on Sunday to capture his second U.S. Open in four years, closing with a 1-over 71 for a two-shot victory.

"I knew that these last two holes were going to be the key holes," Goosen said. "I made a good putt on 16 to get even with him, and then he made a mistake. I was, as they say, lucky to hang on."

Goosen was more than lucky. He avoided the undertow of the highest final-round scoring at the U.S. Open in 32 years and overcame thunderous cheers from a crowd that tried to will Lefty to the second leg of the Grand Slam with the kind of support that Arnold Palmer used to get in the majors.

But after taking his first lead with a 6-foot birdie on the par-5 16th -- his third birdie in four holes -- Mickelson hit into the left bunker on the par-3 17th and blasted out 5 feet above the hole.

Behind him in the final group, Goosen holed a 12-foot birdie on the 16th to tie for the lead.

When Goosen stepped to the 17th tee, glaring into the bright sun over Long Island, he saw Mickelson stand over the short putt, not sure if it was birdie or par.

"I saw him miss the return, and I heard someone in the crowd say, 'You're two ahead now,"' Goosen said. "I didn't really expect Phil to make double on 17."

The only better sounds were the cheers walking up the 18th green. This time, they were for him, and he answered with his 12th one-putt of the day for the victory.

"It wasn't easier than the first time," said Goosen, who also won in 2001 at Southern Hills after a three-putt bogey from 12 feet on the final hole that forced him to win an 18-hole playoff. "Obviously, this time I knew I could do it."

Everyone knew Mickelson could do it, too, especially after he shot 31 on the back nine at Augusta National to win the Masters for his first major.

It looked like he might even do the unthinkable -- bring Shinnecock to its knees with a stunning charge.

"I fought hard all day," Mickelson said. "I played some of the best golf I ever played."

But he looked like the Mickelson of old when the U.S. Open was on the line, missing the kind of putts that have cost him other majors.

"I really don't know what to say there," said Mickelson, who wound up with a 71. "I hit the putt pretty easy. It was downwind. And when the wind gets ahold on these greens, it keeps going."

Goosen also found the bunker, but he knocked it out to 3 feet and slipped it in the left corner for par, giving him a two-shot lead and putting the U.S. Open firmly in his grasp.

"Boy, did Retief play well," Mickelson said. "He played solid and deserved to win."

The gallery finally gave the 35-year-old South African his due.

Goosen finished at 4-under 276, the lowest winning score in the three U.S. Opens held at Shinnecock Hills. He earned $1.125 million and became the 21st multiple Open champion.

Phil Mickelson
APMickelson finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th in the four majors.

Making it even more impressive were the brutal conditions that didn't allow anyone to break par in the final round. The average score Sunday was 78.7, the highest for a final U.S. Open round since it was 78.8 in 1972 at Pebble Beach.

Jeff Maggert shot 72 to finish third, picking up valuable Ryder Cup points.

Ernie Els, who played in the final group with Goosen, made double bogey on the first hole and slid all the way to an 80 for his worst score in a U.S. Open.

He wasn't alone.

Tiger Woods didn't make a birdie until his final hole to salvage a 76, his highest score in the U.S. Open as a pro. He finished at 290, the sixth straight major he played over par. He now has gone two full years without a major -- still two majors short of his longest drought, but nowhere near the guy who won two years ago down the road at Bethpage.

The only consolation for Woods this week?

He will remain No. 1 in the world, by a margin that shrinks every week.

But then, Shinnecock Hills was tough on everyone, and horror stories came from all corners.

  • The grass on the seventh green was dead before the final round began. Officials had to water the green, but not before the first four players came through and made three triple bogeys and a bogey.

  • Chris Riley, among the best putters on tour, watched the gallery part as his putt on the first hole rolled off the green and through the crowd, leading to triple bogey.

  • Bo Van Pelt six-putted the fourth green for an 8.

  • Of the 28 players who failed to break 80, Billy Mayfair topped the list at 89.

    Jerry Kelly shot 81 and blistered the U.S. Golf Association for the way the course was set up.

    "Get off your high horse and be good to the game," Kelly said. "A great golfer will win the Open, whether it's 12 (under par) or whether it's even."

    On that there is no argument.

    Goosen joined Woods as the only players to win two majors since 1999, and he is especially tough in the major that demands near perfection.

    "Everybody struggled," Goosen said. "The course wasn't easy and, you know, I'm just lucky to be on top."

    It didn't take long for this to turn into a two-man race, and they were the only two players under par when the made the turn.

    Both made bogey on No. 10 by hitting above the hole and taking three putts. Goosen took command on the tough little 11th with a tee shot that bounced and rolled and turned and finally stopped 4 feet away for birdie.

    Back and forth they went, Mickelson trying to answer with birdie, Goosen hanging on for par.

    Goosen was deep in the yellow grass right of the 13th fairway and heard another explosion of cheers when Mickelson made an 18-footer ahead of him. Goosen hacked hard, but the ball squirted left into the gallery, leaving him a good lie in a bad position, a bunker between him and the rock-hard green. A double bogey was possible. His lead could have evaporated.

    The pitch was nearly perfect, stopping 8 feet behind the hole for a par that never looked possible from the time his ball left the tee.

    But it seemed as though Goosen used up all his good fortunes.

    From the middle of the 14th fairway, his approach plugged into the front bunker. Goosen hit too softly, and the ball stayed in the thick collar of rough framing the sand. His chip ran 25 feet long, but he coolly sank that to limit the damage to a bogey.

    No matter. Mickelson was hitting his stride, and his 10-foot birdie putt dropped on No. 15 for a share of the lead. The gallery was simply delirious, and it only added to the pressure.

    But Goosen, as always, was up to any challenge.

    He saved par from the bunker on No. 15 with an 8-foot putt. He holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th to stay in the game. Then came the decisive two holes, and the Goose was simply golden.


    Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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