Retief Goosen, once struck by lightning as a 15-year-old amateur, harnessed the power of his putter and benefited mightily from Phil Mickelson's double-bogey meltdown on the 17th hole to win the wild and wind-blown 104th U.S. Open on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.
Tied for the lead with two holes to play, Mickelson's dream of back-to-back major championships ended excruciatingly when he three-putted from four feet at 17.
Listening all afternoon to the highly partisan crowds that clearly were trying to will Mickelson to victory, Goosen was unflappable. The 35-year-old South African had a dozen one-putt greens in the final round, including a stretch of five straight starting at the 13th. His magical touch carried him through a draining duel down the stretch against the highly motivated left-hander who had won the Masters only two months ago.
With one final three-foot putt for par at the 18th hole, Goosen was able to shoot 1-over 71 for a 72-hole total of 4-under 276, good for a two-shot victory over Mickelson (71 -- 278) on a course that tried the poise and patience of every man in the field. The winning score by Raymond Floyd at the '86 Open here was 1 under, and Corey Pavin posted even-par to prevail at the '95 Open.
"I'm not disappointed in the way I played at all," Mickelson said of his third runner-up finish in a U.S. Open. "I can't worry about the fact that somebody played better than me, because Retief played some great golf. I thought 2 under would have won by two, maybe three, and it just didn't. . . . It's just as disappointing as it was thrilling to win a Masters."
Goosen, who won the 2001 Open by two shots in a playoff with Mark Brooks (72 to 70), said: "It wasn't any easier than the first time. I knew I could do it; I've done it before. I scrambled on the back nine, and I knew Phil was playing well. I was just lucky he made double bogey at 17."
It became a two-man contest very early on. Ernie Els, only two behind at the start and playing with countryman Goosen, made double bogey at the first out of the rough and another at the eighth that took him out of the mix almost immediately. He shot 80 and tied for ninth. Fred Funk, who started three off Goosen's 54-hole lead, made bogeys on three of his first five holes, and faded to sixth. Jeff Maggert made double bogey at the eighth and never contended on the back nine, but did finish third at 1-over 281.
And Tiger Woods had his worst final round in an Open, posting a 76 that left him tied for 17th. Afterward, he said, "That golf course got out of control." Indeed, U.S. Golf Association officials were forced to start watering the sloping green at the almost impossible 189-yard No. 7 this morning when the first two groups through had three triple bogeys and one bogey, with two players putting past the pin and into a bunker.
Many players trudged into the clubhouse and moaned that the course was set up over the edge of common decency by the USGA on a day when not a single man was able to break par and only Goosen and Mickelson were under par for 72 holes. Jerry Kelly, who six-putted the fourth hole and had a front-nine 43 on the way to 81, said the final round carnage was "the USGA's fault. I think they're ruining golf, period."
The final-round scoring average was 78.7 strokes, almost 9 over par, and the highest since the fourth round at the '72 Open at Pebble Beach (78.8). It also marked only the fifth time in Open history that not a single player broke par in the last round.
Mickelson was asked if he agreed with a number of players who complained that the course was unfair. "I played some of the best golf of my life and still couldn't shoot par," he said. "So you tell me."
Yet Mickelson still was able to muster three back-nine birdies, including a six-foot birdie putt at the 540-yard 16th that gave him a brief one-shot lead as he walked toward the 17th tee. It lasted about 10 minutes, or the time it took him to three-putt the 179-yard hole after leaving his tee shot 6-iron in a greenside bunker for what he later described as "not a hard [sand shot].
"I had a good lie," he said, "but the green, we saw it bounce up in the air and it just took it. I certainly didn't want it to be that long [four feet], but I thought I hit it high and soft enough not to do that. I don't know what it hit, but it was awfully firm. . . . My cleats didn't go in the grass. I kind of walked on top there. I hit an easy putt because I knew it was quick. The putt was downwind, and when the wind gets a hold of it on these greens, it takes it. It just wouldn't stop."
Goosen said he was on the 17th tee when he watched Mickelson miss his first putt for par, then "I saw him miss the return putt. . . . Someone said in the crowd, 'You're two ahead now.' I knew he made double."
Goosen made one of his many gorgeous saves of par after hitting his own tee shot at the 17th into the bunker, blasting out to a kick-in one-footer that allowed him to go to the 18th tee with a two-shot lead. Just as he had all week, he hit driver and watched his ball stay safely in the fairway. He hit wedge to within 30 feet just on the back fringe, and said he was determined to two-putt from there. In 2001 at Southern Hills, he had three-putted on the 72nd hole, missing a 30-incher that forced an extra 18 holes on Monday.
But there would be no playoff this year, mostly because Goosen said he started figuring out the correct line and break of most greens all around in Saturday's round. He had 24 putts in all Sunday, the lowest number in the field.
"It was a relief to see [his second shot on 18] on the back of the green," he said. "I knew from the last time [in 2001] that it's not over until it's over. I didn't want to three-putt again."