The final pairing in the 105th U.S. Open will offer one of the most striking contrasts in the history of the game.
On one hand, we'll have elegant stoic Retief Goosen, the South African with the model swing who is trying to win his third Open in five years and his second in a row. "When you play with him," said Olin Browne, "you practically have to light his feet on fire to get him to talk."
On the other, we have rumpled 235-pound Jason Gore, an almost unknown 31-year-old qualifier from the minor league Nationwide Tour with a huge grin, undisguised emotions and enormous power. He's still telling the tale of how his car was ransacked at 1:30 a.m. in Asheville, N.C., last Sunday when thieves stole everything right down to his underwear -- "the poor guys."
Both men showed their styles with birdies on the 18th green on Saturday. After Goosen made his 25-foot putt from the fringe to shoot 69, go three under par and build a three-shot lead over Gore and Browne, his face never changed expression. Slowly, the defending Open champion lifted his cap off his head to acknowledge the bellowing crowd, then softly replaced it.
"He's cold as ice," Gore said admiringly.
Gore is hot as chili peppers. When his 15-foot putt disappeared on the 18th, he followed the ball to the hole, pointing at it gleefully, much as his old friend from junior golf days -- Tiger Woods -- is famous for doing.
"On Thursday, I told [the media] that I wasn't a fist-pumper. Well, strike that," Gore said sheepishly. "I went over to my caddie after that putt on 18 and said, 'Did I just point that ball into the hole?' "
"Yes," answered his caddie."
"Gosh, I'm a cheeseball," replied Gore.
This final Sunday at the Open might as well be entitled "Goose and the Four Cheeseballs." Goosen's four closest pursuers could play in the group in front of you at your local club and nobody -- n-o-b-o-d-y -- on the grounds would have any clue who any of them are.
Browne, 46, is ranked No. 300 in the world and was ready to quit the game a year ago. Gore's biggest win is the Albertsons Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour. When he once got to play in the Walker Cup in 1997, Gore heard his name announced -- "now representing the United States of America" -- and shook so much he couldn't tee his ball properly. "I didn't breathe for about six minutes."
The two men tied for fourth place, four shots behind Goosen, are Michael Campbell, a Maori tribesman from New Zealand whose great-great-great-grandfather, Sir Logan Campbell, emigrated from Scotland, and journeyman Mark Hensby, one year removed from the Nationwide Tour, who's best known for living in his car in the parking lot at Cog Hill in his scuffling days.
What are their chances?
"I played terrible. I don't know what else to say -- terrible," said Hensby, who scrambled to a 72. "It eventually catches up on you. . . . I'm not going to answer that car question. I've already talked about it a hundred times."
Be sure not to win on Sunday, Mark, or you'll have to talk about it forever.
Asked to summarize his Open feelings, Campbell said, "Tired." Told that the low score of the day, tying Goosen's 69, was shot by 51-year-old Peter Jacobsen, Campbell said, "I've got hope."
But probably not a whole lot with that attitude.
This event is now Goosen's to lose. And not many think he will. Almost every other player who came off Pinehurst No. 2 after this third round pronounced the experience "brutal" or "the hardest course I have ever seen." Every face seemed stressed and mere survival was the mantra for Sunday.
As for Goosen?
"I had a good time this morning playing at home with the kids. That was fun."
No, Retief, the golf, the golf, you know, the U.S. Open, back-to-back wins like Ben Hogan. That sort of thing.
"I felt more relaxed today than I did yesterday," Goosen said. "I felt too relaxed in the middle of the round and lost my concentration."
Goosen is the only golfer who needs two caddies, one to carry clubs and another to bring along a cot in case he needs a nap.
"Anybody who is 5, 6, 7 over par still has a chance," Woods said. "Anything can happen on that course."
Just as he said this, Goosen began a streak of three birdies in the last five holes. "Could have been four," Goosen said. "Quite enjoyed it out there. Had a good round with Olin. We had fun."
How can we tell? Just give us a hint.
"Retief has clearly figured out how to win the U.S. Open," Hensby said.
A gorgeously rhythmic swing, excellent conservative course management and an amazing ability to make putts inside 10 feet on ultra-fast Open greens is certainly an excellent foundation. Jack Nicklaus, thought to hold the world record for Open implacability, won this championship four times. By Sunday night, Goosen may trail him by one. And he's only 36.
The best hope for thrills on Sunday comes from the sheer capriciousness of U.S. Open layouts, especially Pinehurst. "It seemed like all my good shots ended up in bad places and all my bad shots ended up in good places," Browne said. "I'd say, 'How did my ball get here? What's going on?' I saw [two USGA officials] and wanted to ask them, 'What are you guys doing to us out here?' "
Oh, just "identifying the best golfer in the world" or Retief Goosen, whichever comes along first.
So, welcome to the U.S. Open, the devil's playground. If Goosen shoots 71 or 72, as he threatened to do on Saturday evening, this event is probably already in the books. But if he doesn't, the fourth round could provide some of the most appealing long shots ever to show up on the leader board in a major championship. And that's saying a lot. Because, over the last seven years, golf has been blessed or befuddled with incredible long-shot winners in majors including Steve Jones, Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel.
"There are a lot of guys [behind Goosen] who really don't have a lot to lose," Gore said.
The problem is the pressure that goes along with the size of the prize that they might win. For example, would the $1.1 million first prize surpass all the money that Gore has won in golf in his career.
"Yes," he said, not requiring time for any extensive computations.
After everything the thieves stole from him and his wife outside their motel a few days ago, Gore could certainly use the check.
"Have you 'Googled' yourself this week to see all the attention you're getting?" Gore was asked.
"No," Gore said, "the computer got stolen, too."