Second Not So Bad for Goosen Sabbatini


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Retief Goosen had cleaned out his locker, packed his bags and was angling to catch a flight home for the weekend. Rory Sabbatini didn't have much reason to believe he'd be hanging around at the Masters either come Sunday.
They say second place makes you nothing more than the 'first loser' at tournaments like these, but for the two South Africans who finished tied with Tiger Woods as runners-up, second place didn't seem so bad.
'A very special moment,' Sabbatini called it after a round of 3-under-par 69 that included a 75-foot carnival putt on No. 8 that briefly gave him the lead.
That putt -- a round-the-world, multiple breaker -- had pretty much everything going for it but the clown's mouth and the windmill. It was good for eagle and, with Sabbatini running around, doffing his visor and celebrating as if he'd just won the tournament, it was exactly the kind of made-for-TV moment the Masters has been famous for over the years.
The ungainly bogey he made to follow that eagle, then another bogey on No. 14 after the wind pushed his drive right, were great examples of how wickedly difficult Augusta National had become this week.
'From there, it was pretty much just trying to recover, and I didn't get it done,' said the 31-year-old, who finished the tournament at 3-over 291, two strokes behind winner Zach Johnson.
Still, Sabbatini gets some nice crystal for the eagle, a handsome paycheck, some publicity beyond just being known as a fast-playing hothead and a nice dose of confidence for his next major.
He could use it. Coming into the week, his highest finish in a major was 26th, at last year's Masters. He had missed 12 cuts in 21 majors. He had never done anything remotely close to climbing a leaderboard on Sunday.
'My history in the majors is far from anything spectacular,' Sabbatini said. 'One of my goals has been to improve. So obviously, this is a great start to the year and hopefully something to build on.'
Goosen, meanwhile, doesn't need confidence boosts at this stage.
He's got two U.S. Open championships, and when this Masters morphed into a U.S. Open-style grind, it shouldn't have been surprising to see him leading early in the back nine, in good position to become the first South African to win the Masters since Gary Player in 1978.
He got there with help from back-to-back birdies on Nos. 7 and 8, the first of which came after he salvaged a drive into the pine straw with an amazing low punch shot to 8 feet for the birdie putt.
'But on the back nine,' Goosen said, 'I just couldn't buy a putt at the right time.'
His three-putt on 12 for bogey was the biggest sin, and began his tumble out of the lead.
Some questioned his decision not to hit driver on the reachable par-5 13th, but Goosen said the hybrid club he used would have put him in position to reach the green in two had he hit it well.
'I blocked it out right, laid up, hit the third just a little too hard and hit a good putt,' he said.
The putt missed and a bit later, Goosen caught a terrible break on the par-3 16th, when he hit what looked to be a perfect shot to the middle of the green -- a location that almost always trickles left toward the hole on Sundays, but didn't this time.
But how could he really complain?
He made the cut at 8 over on Friday, a beneficiary of the 10-stroke rule that went into effect this week because scores were so high. When Goosen left the course that day, Johnson was winning with a score of 3 under, which would have left the South African out for the weekend.
'I packed my bags and cleaned out my locker,' he said. 'I wasn't thinking I was coming back.'
But Johnson finished with three straight bogeys and the leaders wound up at 2 under.
'I had to come back the next morning and fill up my locker again,' Goosen said.
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