Woods was nine strokes back, and no one knew quite what to make of the situation. "You are always going to be intimidated by Tiger," Goosen said on Saturday night. "A lot of players have gotten used to looking for his name on the leader board, and it has probably affected their play. Tomorrow we'll have to find our own way."
Or not. Sunday was a day of bloodletting up and down the leader board. Having smoothed out the rough edges in his buggy-whip swing, the 21-year-old Garc�a came into the Open leading the PGA Tour in total driving. On Saturday he hit 12 fairways and shot 68 to move to within one stroke of the lead. Then he collapsed on Sunday. Gripping and regripping the club as if it were coated in Vaseline, he fidgeted his way to a 77, which included a ghastly 33 putts. "I lost a big opportunity," he said, on the verge of tears. "It was my moment. But I guess you have to lose many majors before you can win one."
Mickelson can only hope so. He began the final round only two shots off the lead but performed his usual Phil Flop on Sunday, shooting a 75 to fall to seventh, six strokes back. Mickelson, No. 2 in the World Ranking, pays a lot of lip service to challenging Woods, but he doesn't seem to make time to work on the holes in his game. In March he opened the first golf course that he has designed, Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, Ariz., and later this year he and his wife, Amy, will move into a $6 million Xanadu they have been building in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The evening before the Open began, the Mickelsons even threw a birthday party for their two-year-old daughter, Amanda, complete with a life-sized Barney, a bubble machine and a herd of ponies.
Duval lost his cool, and probably the tournament, on the 9th hole on Saturday, when he pitched a hissy fit after not having gotten his way in a rules dispute. One under par at the time, he made bogey on the hole. Duval then came further unhinged on Sunday, shooting a 74 to fall to 16th place.
All these wannabes had exited stage right by the time the leaders made the turn for Sunday's back nine, and, until the end, Brooks, Cink and Goosen produced clutch and thrilling golf. One of the game's most creative shotmakers, Brooks held the lead at five under par after saving par by ripping a 234-yard shot pin high on the 16th hole. Goosen caught him on the 15th, trickling in a frighteningly fast downhill 15-footer, the kind of putt he made look routine over the first 71 holes.
By that time Brooks had reached the 18th green, where he was about to find out how small the cup gets when the U.S. Open is on the line. Wary of being short from 40 feet, he charged his putt seven feet past the target. Shaken, Brooks left the next one an inch short to bogey and tumble to four under. It was only his second three-putt of the tournament.
Shortly thereafter, back at 17, Cink pulled off the shot of the day, sticking a sand wedge within a foot and a half of the hole to catch Goosen at five under. Both hit stout drives onto the 18th fairway, and playing first, Cink launched his approach long and left into the bermuda rough, which was the consistency of steel wool. Goosen followed with a six-iron to 12 feet that, were it not for the ensuing ill-fated two-footer, would surely have passed into Open lore.
In the locker room Brooks was stuffing the detritus of his locker into his bag while lazily monitoring the telecast. "I'm trying to get out of here quick," he said. At the sight of Goosen's six-iron shot, he rose without comment and ambled to the rest room. He came back and resumed packing as Cink was playing croquet on the green. "You hate to say it," Brooks would say later, "but once a guy does that, all of a sudden it's like the power of suggestion."
Brooks was still packing when Goosen stepped up to his downhill two-footer. (Like those before him, he had misjudged the speed of his first putt.) When the putt slid by on the low side, Brooks jumped to his feet and bellowed, "He didn't just do that, did he?" Yes he did, earning Goosen a place alongside those who have blown majors by choking on short putts, an ignominious group that includes Scott Hoch (1989 Masters), Hubert Green ('78 Masters) and Doug Sanders ('70 British Open).
Goosen refused to let one putt break him. Ernie Els, the two-time U.S. Open champion who has been a friend and rival of Goosen's since both were in their early teens in South Africa, says, "The strength of his game is his mind, his ability to hang in there. He's not afraid of anything." On Sunday, Els left a pink Post-It in Goosen's locker with a note scribbled in Afrikaans on it. Rough translation: "Kick ass, boy."