Goosen grabs third-round lead at U.S. Open

Updated: June 18, 2005, 10:10 PM ET
Associated Press

PINEHURST, N.C. – The ball took one last turn and dropped into the cup for birdie, making Retief Goosen more than just the sole survivor of par at Pinehurst No. 2.

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Goosen seized control of the U.S. Open on Saturday with three birdies on the final five holes, the last one a 25-footer from just off the 18th green that gave him a 1-under 69 -- one of only two rounds under par -- and a three-shot lead over journeymen Olin Browne and Jason Gore.

The 35-year-old South African is now just 18 holes away from his third U.S. Open title in five years, a chance to join Curtis Strange as the only back-to-back winners in the last 50 years.

He has history on his side, and no one with any major championship credentials within four shots of him. The last six U.S. Open champions have started the final round with the lead, dating to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999.

Goosen certainly has the demeanor -- birdies and bogeys are met with the same, placid stare -- but no one can question he has the game for the toughest test in golf.

"That's what you need on a course like this -- no heartbeat and a great short game,'' Arron Oberholser said.

Tough to catch
Retief Goosen has led after three rounds five times in PGA Tour and USGA events. How he finished:
Tournament After 3 Rounds Finish
'01 U.S. Open Tied with Cink Won
'02 BellSouth Led Mickelson by 2 Won
'02 Masters Tied with Woods Second
'03 Chrysler Led Baird by 2 Won
'04 U.S. Open Led Mickelson, Els by 2 Won
Note: In the 104-year history of the U.S. Open, only 47 players holding at least a share of the lead through 54 holes have gone on to win. However, the last six 36-hold leaders have won (Payne Stewart in '99, Tiger Woods in '00, Goosen in '01, Woods in '02, Jim Furyk in '03, Goosen in '04).

Goosen finished at 3-under 207 and will play in the final group Sunday with Gore, who is No. 818 in the world ranking and showed plenty of grit with three nifty par saves and a 15-foot birdie on the final hole for a 72.

Browne, No. 300 in the world who got into the U.S. Open by shooting 59 in a qualifier, also hung tough with birdies on three of the par 3s for a 72 to finish the third round tied with Gore at 210.

Michael Campbell (71) and Mark Hensby (72) were another stroke behind.

Only Goosen and U.S. Senior Open champion Peter Jacobsen managed to break par in dry, fiery conditions played under a blazing sun, which made the domed greens off limits to all but the most exquisite shots -- and Jacobsen needed a hole in one on No. 9 to do it.

Goosen had his share of troubles, making a mess of the 13th hole with a wedge that went over the green and a chip that went back down the fairway. But he recovered with spectacular shots, starting with a 6-iron out of a fairway bunker, fading slightly toward the middle of the green to 30 feet for birdie.

The big names -- and that includes some of the Big Five with which Goosen is only loosely associated -- face the toughest task of all. They need to make birdies on a course that doesn't allow many, or hope that Goosen comes tumbling back to par and beyond.

David Toms, who gave up five shots on his final two holes Friday, hit an approach shot that bumped into a bird on the 18th green, then made his 10-foot birdie for a 70 that put him at 2-over 212.

Tiger Woods couldn't hit the fairway with a 2-iron on two of the first three holes and made bogeys, but played even par the rest of the way for a 72 that left him in a group at 3-over 213. Woods has never won when trailing by more than five shots going into the last round on the PGA Tour.

Vijay Singh failed to make birdie in his round of 74, leaving him at 214 and seven shots behind.

The only thing keeping the Goose from joining just five other players with at least three U.S. Open titles is Pinehurst No. 2, a course that can dole out punishment at any time.

More on Goosen's Mindset

It shouldn't surprise you that Retief Goosen has turned into such a good U.S. Open player. His secret is that he maintains a very level emotional state throughout his round.

Players like Goosen are able to stay in the moment because they can turn the emotion off when they're playing golf. It's almost as if he goes into a zen-like trance.

Every golfer can learn a little bit from this type of player. Just try to get into the rhythm of the round -- if play is slow, then slow down your entire routine; if play is fast, then make your routine a little quicker.

The trick is to hit the ball and chase it, hit the ball and chase, without thinking about your previous shots. Just keep doing this, remaining totally focused, until someone shakes your hand and says, "Nice round." And then you'll know what it feels like to be Retief Goosen.

– Ed Bowe, ESPN Golf Schools instructor. Learn more about ESPN Golf Schools presented by Lexus at www.espngolfschools.com.

"It is nice having a lead going into the last round,'' Goosen said. "If it was 12 shots, I'd probably be a little more comfortable, but it's going to be a hard day out there tomorrow. Anything can happen on this course. You can lose three shots very quickly around here.''

Goosen lost them on two holes.

His tee shot on the 12th went right into a sandy area, landing just beyond a patch of wire grass. He missed the green to the left and took bogey. Then came the 378-yard 13th, the toughest hole in the third round.

From the left rough, his ball rolled over the crown of the green and left him a delicate chip. He misjudged the speed ever so slightly and watched the ball tumble off the front of the green and back down to the fairway. Goosen pitched up to about 10 feet and rimmed the cup for a double bogey.

Suddenly, no one was under par in the U.S. Open. And with a mean stretch of holes in front of him and the other leaders, it figured to only get worse. Goosen's next tee shot again sailed to the right and into a bunker.

One swing turned everything around.

From a downhill, sidehill lie in the bunker, he shaped a 6-iron from left-to-right to the middle of the green, an ideal spot even for someone in the middle of the fairway. That was followed by another perfect 6-iron on the par-3 15th to the middle of the green for birdie from 15 feet.

Goosen had good looks at birdie on the next two holes, lipping out from 10 feet on the 17th, before he sent a powerful message with the 25-footer that trickled into the 18th hole on its last turn: This is one cool customer.

"That guy might be the most underrated of all of them,'' Browne said, noting how Goosen often gets left out of conversations involving Woods, Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. "That guy just goes about his business.''

Gore was one of the few guys who left Pinehurst with a smile, and for good reason.

Beefy and lovable, he was greeted by cheers at every turn by a gallery charmed by his longshot bid in a third round when everyone expected him to collapse under the pressure.

He almost did, chopping up the 14th hole so badly that he had to two-putt from 20 feet for double bogey. He missed the 15th green to the left and saved par with an 8-footer, came up short on the 16th and saved par from 6 feet, then got up-and-down for par from behind the 17th green.

When his birdie putt fell on the final hole, he crouched and pointed to the hole, then raised his putter.

"Crazy stuff happens,'' he said. "I thought everybody was lying until today came around.''

Can he actually beat the Goose?

"I'm in the final pairing,'' he said. "I've come this far. If they invite me out on the 18th green and they hand me a large piece of silver, that will be pretty special.''

Even so, the toughest challenger remains the course.

Goosen isn't ready to celebrate another U.S. Open just yet, although it would be hard to tell if he were. Unflappable as ever, the Goose now looks unstoppable.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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