Watching Retief Goosen now its hard to imagine he once threw a club in jest'let alone snapped one in anger. Goosen says his younger days were marked by frustration and insecurity, leading to broken clubs and lack of focus.
My temperament pretty much used to be the worst part of my game, said Goosen, the forgotten star among the worlds top five at The Players Championship.
I knew there was always a problem, that my focusing wasnt good enough to get around the course, he said.
That hardly seems the case these days for the worlds fifth-ranked golfer, often nudged out of conversations about the PGA Tours Big Four of Vijay Sigh, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson'all to tee off Thursday at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass Stadium Course.
While the attention is aimed at those four, Goosen goes about showing he belongs alongside them.
Goosen was the only player who stayed with Mickelson at the U.S. Open last June, overcoming the fan favorite to win his second major. Then in November, Goosen chased down Woods to take the Tour Championship, becoming only the third golfer to knock Woods out of a 54-hole lead.
Goosens only problem? He seems fairly, well, dull. Theres rarely a grimace or any show of emotion.
Im quite happy to go home and relax and not come into the media (tent), Goosen said.
Darren Clarke says Goosen might be overlooked by the media and the public, but not by his fellow players.
Hes won two U.S. Opens, Clarke said. Youve got to play some to win a couple of those.
Goosen knew to advance hed have to calm himself.
I had to pay for all those broken shafts and it was getting a bit expensive, he said.
Goosen had worked with swing coach Sam Frost but became so frustrated at hitting the ball well and not winning, he gave up coaches. He linked up with Belgian psychologist Jos Vanstiphout in 1999, and things began to click.
Two years later, as a PGA Tour rookie, the South African won $1.1 million and his first U.S. Open title in an 18-hole playoff with Mark Brooks. Goosen reached the top 10 on the money list a year later.
His most successful season was last year, when he won the U.S. Open and the Tour Championship, and finished sixth on the money list with more than $3.8 million.
I think once I got out on tour here, I knew I could play the game, he said.
He has shown it ever since.
Hell need every bit of that ability to stick with the field, which includes the worlds top 50 players as well as the Big Four.
Theyve all won one or two tournaments, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. Theyre joined by a lot of other players that are playing well. But Vijay, Tiger, Ernie and Phil have the opportunity this week to create some stories that could be pretty special.
It doesnt always work out that way. Woods is the only one to win The Players Championship, the richest tournament in golf - $8 million - in 2001.
Maybe Ive run out of patience here in the last couple of years, Els said. So I think this week Ive got to be really patient, sometimes just throttle back and put the ball in play'play it like a major.
Els has only two top 10s in his 11 years at Sawgrass, and the others arent much better. Singh has just two top-10s, his only year in contention ending with a tee shot he hooked into the water on No. 14 in 2001 when he finished second to Woods.
Mickelsons best finish came last year, when he was four shots behind champion Adam Scott.
Woods has had the most success. Besides his win at this site four years ago, he finished second to Hal Sutton in 2000 and won the U.S. Amateur title at Sawgrass in 1994.
Ive had a nice run here, Woods said.
But he has gone three straight years outside the top 10, and last year nearly missed the cut after opening with a 75.
Goosen has missed the cut in five of his six appearances at this event. But he had three straight top-10 finishes this season and feels ready to challenge for The Players Championship'and maybe turn the Big Four into the Big Five.
I need to win a few more tournaments and a few big ones, I think, to really put my name up there, he said.
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