- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

TULSA, Okla. Eat your heart out, Anne Robinson.
Golf held its own version of the Weakest Link at Southern Hills Country Club yesterday, and the results were so staggeringly inconclusive that Mark Brooks and Retief Goosen (both 4 under) will play 18 more holes today to decide the winner of the great U.S. Open giveaway.
The 18th hole at Southern Hills has long been the bane of the world's best players. In each of the five majors previously hosted on the layout, the eventual champion bogeyed the final hole of the event. But even that grisly history couldn't possibly have been a portent for yesterday's finishing carnage.
Brooks, Goosen and Stewart Cink all came to the hole 5 under for the event and well clear of the field. And all three butchered the hole in increasingly mind-boggling fashion.
Goosen authored the last train wreck. Needing just two putts from 12 feet to become the most obscure Open champion since Lee Janzen (1993), Goosen rolled his first putt 20 inches past the cup and then lived up to his name with an inconceivably horrific effort. Goosen's putt was literally inside the leather, good in any weekend fourball but a nightmare for a virtual no-name trying to win his first tournament on U.S. soil.
With the world looking on, Goosen hit a putt that would make Scott Hoch, Ed Sneed or Doug Sanders grimace, barely grazing the right lip as the gallery gasped as one in shock.
"I hit the first putt through the break, and I can't explain why the second putt went right," said Goosen, who somehow gathered himself and sank a 30-inch come-backer to force today's playoff. "I don't know what to say. I just missed it. I don't know how it got away from me."
Perhaps only Jean Van de Velde has an explanation. Or maybe Cink, who preceded Goosen's gag job with a miss from even shorter range.
Cink, who birdied the 17th from two feet to heroically move into a place atop the leader board with Goosen, pulled his approach to the 18th into the greenside rough some 55 feet from the flag. Faced with a terrible lie, Cink hacked out 14 feet short and coasted his par putt just by the left edge. Assuming the championship was over, Cink lost his focus and proceeded to blow the shortest pivotal putt in major championship history an 18-inch tap-in. Cink's dead push never even touched the lip, a miscue that left him with a double-bogey and eventually cost him a spot in today's playoff.
"I just lost my concentration for a second," Cink said. "I was trying to get out of the way so Retief could finish, and I rushed it just a little. I learned a valuable lesson."
The true beneficiary of all this chaos was Brooks, who bogeyed the hole when he three-putted from 35 feet almost an hour earlier. His par effort came from eight feet above the hole and slid by the right lip. Brooks already had cleaned out his locker and was thinking about the trip home to Texas when Cink and Goosen came unglued on the 18th green.
"That was shocking to see that finish," said Brooks, the 40-year-old who resurrected his career at Southern Hills this week. "Golf is a very cruel game at times… . I feel bad for [Goosen], but I'm sure he'll put his spikes on and be ready to go tomorrow."
Don't count on it. Goosen was an absolute maestro on the greens all week but no player has ever recovered from such a confidence-crippling moment and regrouped to win a playoff.
"Tomorrow's a new day," said Goosen, the 32-year-old South African who was struck by lightning as a teen-ager and was hit by another lightning bolt yesterday at 18. "I've been in a couple of playoffs before, and I think 18 holes gives you a little better chance than just a sudden-death playoff. You can get down, get relaxed and sort of play the course… . It's sort of a match-play situation, and today is forgotten. Seriously, I'm not going to go jump off my hotel or anything. It's a new day."
Goosen, who lives in London, has won four European Tour events since 1996 and played on the International side in last year's Presidents Cup. So he has dealt with big time pressure before. But if yesterday's finish is any indication of things to come, it's almost impossible to fancy him against a gritty competitor like Brooks.
Brooks, who has seven Tour victories, including the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla, is 4-2 in playoffs during his career. He hit 15 greens yesterday, playing by far the most consistent golf among the contenders. And he's got a major psychological edge today after what happened to Goosen.
"I've been around this game a long time, and we've all witnessed some phenomenal stuff," Brooks said. "There have been some other people who have missed short putts Doug Sanders at St. Andrews [in 1970], and several missed at Augusta that were short and close. Hopefully, we'll have a good match tomorrow, and it will be entertaining."

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