South Africa’s Retief Goosen returns to Southern Hills this morning attempting to win an 18-hole play-off and become just the third man from his country to lift the US Open trophy.
Goosen, 31, from St Pietersberg, a senior member of the European Tour, can follow in the footsteps of previous South African champions, Gary Player (1965) and Els (1994 and 1997) but only if he can defeat American rival, Mark Brooks, and at the same time also overcome the inner demons that will be haunting him after he three-putted the last in an incredible finale reminiscent of Doug Sanders’ cataclysmic collapse at the Open at St Andrews in 1970.
In one of the most incredible finishes seen in a major for years, Goosen and his playing partner, America’s Stewart Cink, came to the last knowing that a par for one of them would be enough to win.
Cink, for his part, never seemed likely to achieve that number after he hit his second shot long and left into the thick rough behind the green. But Goosen, on in two and a mere 12-feet behind the flag, seemed certain to do it before he charged his first putt past.
Eventually, he holed a tantalising four-footer for a five which, had he missed, would have handed Brooks an outright win. Worse, however, was to befall Cink. He pitched onto the green, missed his first putt and then the return, missing out on the chance to get into the play-off.
“Obviously, it turned out to be a pretty bad hole for me and Stewart, a shattered Goosen said after signing for a 71, one worse than Brooks. “It’s not what I wanted but I genuinely believe that I can still go on and win.”
“It just show how cruel this game can be,” said Brooks, who won the 1996 USPGA title but who has been in the doldrums ever since. “I must admit I thought I’d lost the chance to win when I three-putted the final hole but then nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen to Retief and Stewart.”
“Sure, I feel sorry for Retief, but at least he has the chance to put it behind him in the morning.”
“It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in sport,” said Paul Azinger, summing up the feelings of most of those who had watched it.
When the dust settled, and a series of shell-shocked golfers had been interviewed, it became apparent that Goosen and Brooks had ended the championship in a share of first place on four under par 276, one shot ahead of Cink, whose six at the last saw him finish at three under par 278.
Rocco Mediate, having led for a while early in the final round, ended the championship alone in 4th place after a 72 for two under par total of 278, two better than veteran, Tom Kite, 51, and Azinger. Vijay Singh matched Kite’s best-of-tournament 64, ending the championship tied alongside Angel Cabrera, Davis Love and Kirk Triplett in a tie for 7th place.
Sadly, though, Spanish challenger, Sergio Garcia, 21, who started the day in a share of 3rd place, closed with a disappointing 77 that saw him fall into a tie for 12th place on three over par 283. Tiger Woods, chasing his fifth successive major title also finished on that number, firing a final round 69 that could have been better but for a series of missed putts.
Behind Garcia and Woods, Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, completed another excellent US Open with a 72 that left him in a share of 23rd place on six over par 286 and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik, America’s Bob May and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington all finished in the tie for 31st place on eight over par 288.
Former Masters champion, Bernhard Langer, who had come to Southern Hills on the back of four successive top-10 finishes on the USPGA Tour, including a second at the previous week’s FedEx St Jude Classic, returned a 74 for a four round aggregate of 289 to finish two shots in front of Eduardo Romero and three ahead of Jose Coceres and Colin Montgomerie.
Montgomerie, who, in the past, has notched two second place and one third place finish in this championship, lost his chance of another high placing when he ballooned to a seven over par 77 during the third round and he added a 74 in the fourth that put him in a tie for 54th place, his worst finish in 10 US Open appearances.
South Africa’s Ernie Els, the winner of the US Open title in both 1994 and 1997, when the Scot came second in both, also scored 77 on Saturday and he went on to post a final round 72 that left him languishing well down the field on 294.
Australia’s Peter Lonard, who had come through the final Qualifying event at the Lakes G & C in Westerville, Ohio, undid a solid first appearance in this championship with a disastrous 79 in the closing round and that dropped him into a share of 66th place alongside Els.
Nick Faldo closed with a five over par 75 to finish tied in 72nd place on 295 and Scotland’s Gary Orr and Sweden’s Mathias Gronberg completed the championship in a share of 74th place on 16 over par 296.