Goosen Puts US Open Meltdown Behind Him

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Three weeks ago, Retief Goosen waited until Sunday to wreck his chances of winning another major championship.
 
This time, he thought it might be over as he strolled away from the fifth green Saturday, having made bogey on one of the Old Course's easiest holes.
 
The South African turned to his caddie, Colin Byrne, and delivered a grim forecast -- though, in all fairness, nothing sounds too foreboding when it comes from Goosen, whose idea of a tantrum is to shake his head ever so slightly.

``I think we're a little bit out of this now,'' Goosen said in his laid-back monotone, sounding as though he might doze off any minute.
 
Byrne came back with a more promising outlook, knowing there was still a lot of shots to hit in the British Open.
 
``Keep grinding,'' the caddie said. ``Keep driving.''
 
Goosen made par on the next hole, then closed out the front nine with three straight birdies. ``Suddenly,'' he said, ``things started looking a bit better.''
 
By the time Goosen got back to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse, having put the finishing touches on a 6-under 66 with a two-putt birdie at 18, Tiger Woods was only one stroke ahead on the scoreboard.
 
Woods, just getting started when Goosen completed his round, added a couple of strokes to the lead before the day was done. But at least Goosen is hopeful again, three shots down instead of eight, in a third-place deadlock with Colin Montgomerie at 9-under 207.
 
If Goosen can avoid the sort of final-round meltdown that cost him so dearly at Pinehurst last month, he might just add a third major title to his resume and solidify his place among the game's top players.
 
Not that Goosen will be thinking about that closing 81 in the U.S. Open. It's just not his style to relish the triumphs or linger over the failures for too long.
 
``No, I'm not determined to make up for it,'' Goosen said. ``It was just one of those things that happened. I'd just like to give myself a chance every time on Sunday and hopefully one day it works out and you win again. That's all you can do in this game.''
 
Riveting stuff? Hardly. But that's the way Goosen approaches the game and life in general.
 
Goosen can get in a huff from time to time. When he came to his interview before the U.S. Open -- as the defending champion, no less -- about a half-dozen reporters showed up.
 
The next day, when Goosen was one shot off the lead, he refused to meet with reporters. And he didn't bother showing up for his scheduled interview before the start of the British Open, telling the Royal & Ancient he was tied up with other matters.
 
While it won't be easy to catch Woods, Goosen hopes to at least get off to a better start than he did on the final day at Pinehurst. He went out in the final group with a three-stroke lead, which was gone by the third hole.
 
From there, the collapse was stunning in its totality -- especially from a player with a reputation for being almost robotic.
 
``It was just one of those days,'' Goosen said. ``Everything I did was wrong. If I hit a good shot, it was the wrong club. I misread the greens a lot. I don't know if there's anything I can say I learned. It was just a big disappointment. It was just one of those rounds.''
 
When Jose Maria Olazabal birdied the final hole Saturday to claim second place at this Open -- two strokes behind Woods -- Goosen was relegated to the next-to-last group with Montgomerie.
 
Not a bad place to be. With everyone chasing Woods and most of the Scottish fans cheering on Monty, Goosen relishes the idea of fading into the background. Maybe no one will notice him until he's holding up the claret jug.
 
``The problem is blocking out what goes on behind the ropes, the noise and people running around everywhere,'' he said.
 
He shrugged off the challenge of chasing Woods, knowing another round of 66 will give him a chance to join fellow South Africans Ernie Els, Gary Player and Bobby Locke as a British Open champion.
 
``It's pretty much in every major -- everybody is trying to beat Tiger,'' Goosen said. ``You feel like if you finish ahead of him, you're going to win the tournament.''
 
He didn't sound the least bit concerned.
 
He never does.
 
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