Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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3 contenders all look like stooges

TULSA, Okla. - Let's break into song. A spirited rendition of Chokelahoma, if you please, maestro.

Somewhere, Scott Hoch is laughing. Choke may not rhyme with Goosen, but it's darned near synonymous now.

Retief Goosen, the South African, staked a 6-iron from 171 yards on the 72nd hole yesterday. The ball checked up some 10 feet past the cup and all he had to do was two-putt to win the U.S. Open.

He could have grabbed a kid out of the gallery to lag the ball up there and get down in two for him. He could have kicked it twice and won. Good gracious, Jean Van de Velde could have two-putted from there.

Oh, well. Goosen wasn't the only stooge taking center stage on the 18th green at Southern Hills. There was a full complement of them. All three, in fact.

Mark Brooks was first to bogey the hole, whacking a long birdie putt seven feet past the cup and having his par putt die on the lip. He finished minus-4, signed his card, adjourned to the locker room and packed up his belongings.

Then came the final pairing, Stewart Cink and Goosen, tied at 5-under. Cink flew the green with his approach, but Goosen sent a low liner in below radar. Tracking, tracking, tracking. It braked 10 feet past the cup.

Cink chipped out of chunky rough and it was ugly, stopping 12 feet short of the stick. His putt to save par breathed on the left edge of the hole, but slid past. That left a tap-in for bogey from 18 inches. One problem. It never even scared the cup. Double-bogey for a 3-under finish.

And, finally, it was Shemp's ... er, Goosen's turn. The 10-footer went wide right and slid a couple feet past. No problem. Make this one, the trophy goes back to South Africa and Goosen steps out of the shadows cast by Gary Player and Ernie Els in his native land. But he missed it. It broke right. Unbelievable.

Three stooges, three three-putts.

What it means is two of these guys, Goosen and Brooks, return to Southern Hills tomorrow for an 18-hole playoff.

So y'all were tired of Tiger Woods, eh? It's time for someone else to win, you wrote. Just plain sick of it, you faxed. Time to write about someone else, you phoned.

Ah, be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Tiger stepped to the sidelines this weekend and once Phil Mickelson did his customary Sunday fade and once Sergio Garcia disappeared off the face of the scoreboard, if not the earth, we were left with, well, three stooges three-putting, two turtle doves and an 18-hole playoff between Brooks and Goosen.

Happy now?

And what about poor Stewart Cink? Talk about your cinking feeling.

After he missed his birdie putt all he had in mind was getting out of the way, letting Goosen mop up before the grounds crew started tearing down the bleachers.

“The situation dictated that I make the 12-footer,” he said. “Retief figured to have a gimme two-putt. So I put so much into that and when I missed it for par it was hard to concentrate on the next one. It's not that I wasn't trying to make it. It just didn't seem crucial. It's hard for me to explain.

“I couldn't believe what happened then. I mean, I felt bad for Retief. Not only can that wreck your confidence but it's fairly embarrassing, too. It wasn't until he finally putted out that I realized that missing that little putt cost me a spot in the playoff.”

Brooks got a spot, admitted he was shocked and also said he felt sorry for Goosen.

“But I'm sure he'll put his spikes on and be ready in the morning,” Brooks said. “I'll be nervous, he'll be nervous. Anybody would be nervous.”

Goosen looked anything but nervous yesterday. In fact, he appeared to be on cruise control, playing level to par for the day, until he reached the 18th green and threw up all over himself.

So, let us conclude with a geography lesson.

During yesterday's Open telecast, Johnny Miller commented on Goosen's swing and demeanor and complimented his “laid-back, Polynesian style.”

Oh, my. South Africa is maybe half a world away from Tahiti and Fiji and all those laid-back Polynesian destinations. Half a world away from paradise.

Unless paradise is a U.S. Open title. Goosen was just 24 inches away from that. And choked.

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