So this is what happens when Tiger Woods leaves things to the jayvee.
Woods forgot to win one of golf's major championships for only the second time since August 1999, and the result was that America's 101st national championship turned into the Castor Oil Open. In a tournament no one wanted to win, three players lost the U.S. Open on the 72nd hole in a burlesque of yippy putting and frayed nerves. The trophy eventually ended up in the hands of Retief Goosen, following a two-stroke playoff victory over Mark Brooks on Monday, but his triumph will forever be overshadowed by the Van de Veldian weirdness in the fourth round.
On Sunday evening it took Brooks, Goosen and Stewart Cink a total of nine putts to navigate the 18th green at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa. Brooks blew a seven-footer that, it turned out, would have won the tournament. Cink missed a 15-foot par putt that, in hindsight, would have brought him the trophy. He then shanked a two-footer that would have landed him in the playoff. Goosen, playing in the final twosome with Cink, was the last to putt, and, on cue, he three-jacked from 12 feet, including an agonizing two-foot miss of his own. As Woods had stormed to victory in five of the previous six majors, including an unprecedented four straight going into this Open, there had been much hand-wringing that his dominance might not be good for the sport. Well, we can now say with some certainty that it sure beats the alternatives.
"It's the saddest thing I've ever seen in sports," Paul Azinger said on Sunday evening of the gagathon on 18.
"I was sick to my stomach," said Rocco Mediate, who finished fourth.
Imagine how Brooks feels. He lost the Open twice. "Golf can be a mean game," Brooks said on Monday.
Hey, don't feel so bad, Mark, you've got plenty of company on the goat ranch. The USGA deserves some of the blame for the sorry spectacle, as the blue coats butchered Southern Hills's 18th green, letting the grass grow longer after complaints about its speed early in the week. Their tweaking turned every putt into an adventure. While we're at it, let's place some of the blame on Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garc�a and David Duval, the young and the majorless who are so good at making paychecks but not history. Woods was gracious enough to grant one of these pretenders a free pass to the winner's circle, but all three recoiled at the enormity of the opportunity. Heck, blame Woods. He opened with a 74 and thereafter would never get closer than within seven strokes of the lead, setting the stage for the theater of the absurd that would follow.
The only good to come out of all this is that the 32-year-old Goosen got a second chance. After all, he should have been dead years ago. When he was 17, Goosen was playing with his cousin Henri Potgieter on their home course in Pietersburg, South Africa. On the 7th hole, Goosen pushed his drive into the trees off the fairway, and, as he reached his ball, a bolt of lightning split the sky and zapped both the tree and Goosen. His eyeglasses were blown off his head and landed 30 yards away. The shafts of his clubs were welded together, and the soles of his golf shoes melted.
"I ran across the fairway to where Retief was lying, and it was a sight I'll never forget as long as I live," Potgieter said last week from his home in Pretoria, where he stayed up late into the night monitoring the telecasts. "Retief's clothes had been burned off of him. Even his underpants. His eyes had rolled up into his head. He wasn't breathing because he'd swallowed his tongue. The smell of burning hair was overpowering. I was sure that he was dead. I began screaming, calling for help, and by God's will, in the group behind us was a doctor. He pried Retief's tongue out of his throat and began administering CPR." Goosen spent six days in the hospital but was back on the golf course within three weeks. The lightning strike left him with a partial hearing loss in his left ear and an irregular heartbeat, which is controlled through exercise, although Goosen plays as if he doesn't have a pulse.
A four-time winner on the European PGA tour, Goosen took control of the Open over his first nine holes in Round 1, with brilliant ball striking that led to a nifty 30. He completed his first round—a four-under 66—on Friday, the suspension of play necessitated by heavy rain and, yes, lightning. ("Retief is the only one of us who doesn't get nervous about the lightning, because he is lucky enough not to remember a thing about that day," says Potgieter.) On Saturday, Goosen didn't have his best fastball but he put on a short-game clinic, getting up and down eight times during a wild 69 that gave him a share of the 54-hole lead at minus-five, along with Cink, one stroke in front of Brooks, Garc�a and Mediate.