Lets Do it Again

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FARMINGDALE N.Y. -- Retief Goosen exited the practice range Wednesday afternoon to the sounds of shrieking patrons belting out his name.
 
Retief! Retief! they shouted, hoping to trade their vocal pleas for the scribbled signature of the reigning U.S. Open champion.
 
Ive probably run out of two Sharpies out there on the course, Goosen said. People are recognizing me a lot more than they did in the past.
 
A reserved, docile 33-year-old South African, Goosen sacrificed his privacy and relative anonymity when he won the U.S. Open last year at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla.
 
How he won is an already exhausted tale: missed two-footer for victory, playoff redemption over Mark Brooks the following day.
 
What happened next was equally as tiring.
 
An instant celebrity, Goosen fulfilled his major champion obligations: the numerous extensive, redundant interviews; the world traveling; the additional, incentive-laden tournaments; the pressure of trying to live up to his newly earned moniker.
 
Goosen has had little problem in the performance department. Hes won five times around the world since capturing the Open, including this years BellSouth Classic.
 
Ive learned a lot from last year and I know I can play under this sort of pressure and I know I can handle the conditions, he said.
 
Nonetheless, he struggled when in position to win this years Masters Tournament. Tied with Tiger Woods through three rounds, he duck-hooked his opening tee shot Sunday, shot 2-over 74 and finished second.
 
It is because of Tigers easy Augusta victory that he is a comfortable favorite this week at Bethpage State Park.
 
If Tiger is teeing it up, hes going to be the guy to beat, Goosen said. I was lucky last year, he was not on top of his game at Tulsa. He never really got anything going, so he was never really in the picture.
 
But this week, hes going to be the guy to watch out for.
 
Like the Black Course, Southern Hills last year was a par-70 layout. But that's one of the few similarities.
 
This course is a lot tougher than Southern Hills, Goosen said, in primary reference to the extreme rough this week. I like the course. Its all out there in front of you. You can pretty much see everything. Here and there you might have a bit of a blind shot but you know youve got to hit it in the fairways and get it onto the green.
 
'It doesnt matter who you are. If youre going to hit it in the rough, youre not going to be able to get it on the green. Its a very fair test and whoever wins this week knows hes played great golf.
 
Though this years venue may not resemble that of a year ago, it is reminiscent to the layout where Goosens countryman Ernie Els won in 1997, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
 
Of course, even though the lay of the land may vary from site to site, the man-altered elements are always the same ' extreme.
 
I found this is like any other U.S. Open, said Els. Youve got to hit your drivers in the fairway. It sounds boring, but thats just what you have to do.
 
I think the rough here this week is probably as bad as Ive seen it in all my time playing U.S. Opens. I think its going to be really penalizing this week.
 
Els hasnt won a major since his triumph five years ago. Hes struggled with his confidence over that span; he even went to see a sports psychologist ' the same one Goosen visits.
 
Ive played some good golf the last couple of years and I havent gotten anything for it in major championships, he said. Obviously, you want to win these things, and a lot of times I got into my own way, and maybe its because I was a little tough on myself. I think Im overcoming that now. Im maturing as a player, as a person maybe.
 
Els is a player who defines himself professionally by his major accomplishments, saying he tries harder than he does in week-to-week events. Hes won two U.S. Opens, with the first coming at Oakmont in 1994. Ironically, this is the one major he feels least suitable to win.
 
I cant really put my finger on it. Im not the straightest driver in the world and Im not the longest. I dont hit every green like some of the other guys, he pointed out. Im aggressive at times, and again here, you cant be too aggressive. So everything kind of ' that Ive done in the U.S. Opens ' plays against the stats that I have.
 
I guess I get the ball around. Ive got a way of getting the ball around and get the ball in the hole.
 
That will be no small task this week. Whoever does that the best will walk away with Open honors, along with all the perks and responsibilities that become a National champion.
 
I wouldnt mind winning another one and going through that all again, quipped Goosen.
 
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