Goosen stays steady, wins Open

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

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

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

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

"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.

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

    "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.