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THE OPEN FINALLY CLOSES
GOOSEN BEATS BROOKS IN PLAYOFF

It takes more than the Choke Heard 'Round the World to break the psyche of Retief Goosen.

When the 32-year-old South African got back to his hotel Sunday night after blowing a 2-foot putt to win the U.S. Open, he didn't trash his putter or cry into his pillow.

"I didn't feel bad about myself at all," Goosen said after winning the 101st championship. "I told myself I was playing well, I still had at least a 50 percent chance of winning, and I got a good nine hours of sleep."

Goosen never looked back in Monday's 18-hole playoff against Mark Brooks. He putted brilliantly over Southern Hills' wicked greens and scored a two-shot victory. Goosen's even-par 70 gave him the $900,000 first prize and was his first win ever in the United States.

Goosen admitted Monday that lack of confidence has held him back in his golf career. But he said working with Belgian psychologist Jos Vanstiphout the last two years has helped elevate his game. Goosen sat down with Vanstiphout as soon as he got back to his hotel Sunday night.

"We had a little chat," Goosen said, "and he told me, 'Tomorrow's a brand new day. What happened on the green is gone and will never come back. You will never be able to do anything about it.' That helped me a lot."

Goosen also was boosted by calls from Nick Faldo and countryman Ernie Els.

"Nick left a message at my room saying he has missed big putts before, too, and that I was playing well and should bear down and keep playing hard," Goosen said. "And Ernie called at 8:30 this morning and he told me the playoff was going to be hard and to play the course more than the other player. He told me I could do it. That helped, too."

Goosen became only the sixth foreign-born champion in the last 70 years at the Open. He's the third South African to win, joining Gary Player (1965) and Els (1994 and 1997).

He joins the ranks of unheralded, unlikely Open champions, which includes Andy North ('78 and '85), Lou Graham ('75), Orville Moody ('69) and Jack Fleck ('55), among others. He's only the eighth player in the last 50 years to post his first PGA Tour win at the Open.

However, it would be incorrect to classify Goosen as a nobody in golf. He ranks 44th in the world, has four European Tour wins and has been ranked among the top 15 in Europe three of the past four years. Fleck and Moody were much bigger Cinderella stories.

His infamous 2-footer notwithstanding, Goosen won because he putted great, displayed a great wedge game and drove the ball better than usual.

"I've never been too much of a consistent driver of the ball," he said. "If I can learn to hit a few more fairways it would be easier. When I'm playing well I'm putting well. That's probably the strongest part of my game."

Goosen ranked 13th in putting for the week and needed just 27 putts in the playoff.

He got up-and-down from off the green for par on five of the first eight holes and one-putted eight of the first 10 greens. He made par-savers of 4, 6 and 7 feet the first three holes, sank a 6-footer for birdie on the par-3 sixth and holed 14- and 13-footers for birdie on the ninth and 10th holes, respectively. At that point he was five shots ahead of the struggling Brooks and never lost command.

So much for being haunted by Sunday's disaster.

"I never watched a replay of the miss," Goosen said, "and I didn't hit any extra putts before the playoff because I didn't feel I putted bad."

"His short game was incredible on Saturday and today," Brooks said. "He almost holed his bunker shot on No. 1. He made par out of the seventh fairway on No. 2, and he plugged it in the bunker on 3 and made par. It could have been different."

Brooks, however, only hit seven fairways and scrambled well to shoot 72.

"I hit bad tee shots on 7, 9 and 10 and he made two birdies in that stretch, and that was the difference," said Brooks, who took $530,000 for second.

Goosen remained mellow and unexcitable to the end. Maybe when you've been struck by lightning on the course, a 2-foot miss for a major title doesn't seem so disastrous.

"I was playing golf with a friend of mine and it was raining and lightning," Goosen said of his fateful day in South Africa at age 17.

"We stopped play and waited until the storm went past and then teed off. We were on our way walking to the fairway and there were a couple trees we had to walk past. As I was next to one of the trees, the lightning hit the tree and me. When I woke up I was lying in the hospital, not knowing what happened. I was in the hospital for six days, and I lost some hearing in my left ear. But I was one of the lucky ones to survive it."

Goosen was lucky to survive his Sunday disaster. But he was good enough to make amends on Monday.

U. S. OPEN CARDS

At Southern Hills CC, Tulsa, Okla.

Yardage: 6,973. Par: 70

Par out 444 453 434--35

Retief Goosen 444 452 433--33

Mark Brooks 443 453 535--36

Par in 434 534 444--35--70

Goosen 335 534 455--37--70

Brooks 535 534 434--36--72

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