- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

TULSA, Okla. Golf's Goose went from goat to golden in less than 24 hours.

South Africa's Retief Goosen authored perhaps the most incredible recovery in golf history yesterday at Southern Hills, rebounding from his 72nd-hole debacle to win the 101st U.S. Open in a playoff over Mark Brooks.

"I've always had not a lot of confidence in myself," Goosen said after posting a level-par 70 to best Brooks by two strokes in their 18-hole duel. "But this week I learned that I could play with these guys. The pressure was on all week, and I really showed myself something."

Goosen showed the entire golf world something with his first major championship victory.

Over the last 30 years or so, the game has had a handful of unforgettable finishing-hole collapses in major championships. Doug Sanders gassed a 3-footer for victory on the 72nd hole at the 1970 British Open. Ed Sneed missed a 5-footer on the final hole to blow the 1979 Masters. At the 1989 Masters, Scott Hoch yanked a 2-footer on the 10th hole of his playoff with Nick Faldo that would have given him a green jacket. And nobody will forget Jean Van de Velde squandering a three-shot cushion at the 1999 British Open with his finishing triple-bogey at Carnoustie.

Goosen looked certain to etch his name indelibly onto that infamous list when he three-putted from 12 feet on the 18th hole at Southern Hills late Sunday afternoon. His second putt on the hole, a shoved par putt from just 20 inches, barely grazed the right lip and left even 20-handicappers gasping in disbelief at the tragic comedy.

"It was quite funny, actually," Goosen said yesterday. "I sort of laughed to myself when I missed that short putt to win. I [couldn't] believe what just happened… . I know now what Jean Van de Velde went through at Carnoustie. You play so well for 71 holes and then suddenly on one hole you can lose you lose the tournament."

But Goosen didn't lose the tournament. Unlike the four aforementioned players, each of whom went on to playoff losses, Goosen recovered his confidence and rebounded at Southern Hills.

"It's really amazing because confidence has never been Retief's strong suit," said Goosen's mental coach, Jos Vanstiphout, who had a psycho-session with Goosen on Sunday evening after the disaster and was shocked by his pupil's calm demeanor. "He used to be a bit of a mess. He didn't believe in himself. He was very negative. But when I asked him [Sunday night] if he could take away one positive from what happened, he said, 'I'm fine. I know I can play with these guys, and I can't wait to get out there again.' "

Apparently, Goosen cleared some sort of mental hurdle in spite of his gruesome finish. And yesterday he showed no residual effects from the collapse. Right from the start of the playoff, Goosen's emotional constitution and putting stroke were tested. But the 32-year-old nearly jarred a bunker shot on No. 1, scrambled down in two from 165 yards after an errant drive at No. 2 and then turned a plugged lie on the third hole into a 6-foot par putt and one of the best sandies you'll ever see.

"The key to him winning this golf tournament was he got up and down a lot. He really got out of some sticky situations," said the 40-year-old Brooks, somewhat stunned to have just a one stroke lead after playing the first three holes 1-under. "It could have easily been a sizable lead. But he made his putts early, and that's where you're going to question yourself whether or not your stroke has disappeared, and it obviously had not."

Goosen pulled even with Brooks with a 6-footer for birdie at the sixth, watched Brooks bogey the seventh after a poor tee shot and then pulled away at Nos. 9 and 10. Goosen played the holes perfectly, curling home a 20-footer for birdie at No. 9 and trickling home a 15-footer at No. 10 to reach 3-under. Brooks, meanwhile, butchered both holes from the tee box, yanking a 3-wood up against a tree en route to a bogey at No. 9 and blocking an iron into an impossible lie in the deep rough on No. 10.

"That was really a turning point," said Goosen, who walked off the 10th green with a total of 12 putts and a five-stroke lead. "From that point on I was just trying to keep my head down and stay cool and just play the course just try and get out with pars."

He did just that for the most part, until a bogey at No. 17 coupled with a point-blank birdie from Brooks trimmed the lead to three strokes as the pair went to Goosen's nemesis hole. Just as he did Sunday, Goosen striped a perfect low cut down the right side of the 18th, a 466-yard, par-4 both Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer called the best par-4 in championship golf. His 5-iron from 187 yards came up just short and trickled all the way back down the green-front slope, leaving him with a nasty, 50-yard pitch to the back-cut pin position. Knowing he had at least three shots to get down, Goosen conservatively selected a putter for the shot. He rolled his ball onto the front shelf, left his first putt six feet short and then fittingly coasted home the winner from the distance at which he had been deadly all week.

"I felt like I needed to win this tournament somehow [after] what happened yesterday," Goosen said after becoming just the sixth foreign-born player to win the Open since World War II. "My [heart] was jumping when I played the last few holes, make no mistake. But that's just when you've got to trust yourself and do it… . When the putt went in, it was a great relief. I was in a way a little bit shocked that I won it."

In light of what transpired Sunday afternoon, most of the golf world was pleasantly shocked as well.

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