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Published: Sunday, 6/19/2005

Unflappable Goosen leads U.S. Open by 3

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

PINEHURST, N.C. - Retief Goosen is the guy you want sitting in the cockpit when the cabin is bouncing and the oxygen masks drop out of the ceiling.

Heck, if he'd been captain of the Titanic, we'd have never heard of Leonardo DiCaprio. If the baby starts its slide on the way to the hospital, Goosen is the one you'd want driving the cab.

The leader of the pack at the U.S. Open is unflappable. He doesn't sweat. Doesn't blink. Doesn't flinch.

"He's what you need on a course like this," said Aaron Oberholser. "No heartbeat and a great short game."

Goosen turned a double bogey on No. 13 yesterday into a mere blip on the radar. He answered with two consecutive birdies and added another with a putt from off the green at No. 18 to cruise in with a 69 for a three-shot lead after three rounds of the 105th Open.

"I think his heart races," argued Nick Price. "But he's like a duck on a pond. You don't know how fast his feet are going."

When all was said and done yesterday, they appeared to be running away from the field.

The 54-hole leader has gone on to win the last six Opens.

That includes Retief Goosen at Southern Hills in 2001.

And it includes Retief Goosen a year ago at Shinnecock Hills.

Will it include Retief Goosen today?

Not if the Tin Cup has his way.

Jason Gore is tied for second after a birdie at No. 18 capped a round of 72 and pulled him back to even par. Olin Browne joined him there, also with a 72.

The original Tin Cup of motion picture fame didn't win the U.S. Open, but got the girl.

Immortality or Rene Russo? OK, it's a coin flip.

Gore already has the girl and a new baby to boot, so he'll shoot for the hardware.

Yesterday, Peter Jacobsen, the reigning U.S. Senior Open champion, had a hole-in-one and shot a 69. In a cameo role, Jacobsen won the fictitious Tin Cup Open, beating characters played by Kevin Costner and Don Johnson, in the 1996 movie of the same name.

Oddly enough, Jacobsen could not remember the name of the make-believe country club at which that "Open" was played.

Movie buffs know it was Pine Hills in North Carolina.

Today, at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, Gore will try to act out one of the great upsets in golf history. He will tee off with Goosen in the final pairing of the final round.

"That's pretty cool, huh?" said the 31-year-old Gore, a Nationwide Tour player whose career earnings as a pro golfer is a bit less than the $1.1 million today's winner will take home.

Is it a stretch to call him a Tin Cup?

Well, he resides at No. 818 in the World Golf Rankings. That's pretty tinny.

Alas, this Tin Cup, like everybody else, may just be playing for second.

"It would be very special to win," Gore said. "And I'm sure I'd need a couple towels to wipe the tears. But that's a long way away. And, hey, Retief is Retief. He's awesome."

Who can argue? Not Michael Campbell (71) or Mark Hensby (72), who are tied at 1-over 211, four shots off the pace. Or David Toms, who rallied nicely after a disappointing finish to Friday's second round to score 70 for a 2-over total.

Tiger Woods had a 72 - exactly half of his strokes yesterday were putts - and is one of a quartet of players at 3-over. Jacobsen, Overholser and Vijay Singh are among those at 4-over.

Goosen certainly seems unbeatable, but wasn't taking anything for granted.

"It's nice having a lead and I'm comfortable, but I also know you can lose three shots in a hurry out there," Goosen said.

He did just that yesterday by going bogey-double bogey at Nos. 12 and 13.

Five holes later, though, you would never have known it had happened.

His birdie on 14 was as tremendous as it was unexpected. He drove into the right fairway trap and had a hanging lie. But he hit a 6-iron to 25-plus feet and holed the putt. He followed with a 15-footer on the next hole, missed a short birdie attempt at No. 17, and then putted from off the green on 18, just over 20 feet from the flag, and made that.

Goosen's under-par round was remarkable considering he hit zero fairways on the back nine. It was not remarkable, though, when you consider he one-putted four of those greens and, technically, zero-putted the last.

"I played nice and solid on the front nine and didn't really put any pressure on my game," Goosen said. "On the back nine, I put a lot of pressure on my game."

At the 13th hole, his approach shot out of the rough flew over the back of the green. His third shot skipped all the way over the front edge and he chipped poorly before two-putting.

That double bogey put Gore in the lead by one, but not for long. Moments later, he completed a double bogey of his own at No. 14 when he had to chop out of the woods and then missed the green.

"I didn't play my greatest, but I hung in there and made some key putts," said Gore, who closed with an 18-footer for birdie at No. 18. "I guess I pointed it in, ala Tiger at the PGA a couple years back. I told my caddie, `Gosh, I'm a cheeseball.'"

Browne fought his swing all day, but scored a couple of late birdies to salvage a 72 while paired with Goosen.

"I'm not worried about Retief," Browne said. "Retief is worried about Retief, I'm worried about me, and Jason is worried about Jason. If anybody is worried about anybody else, this whole thing is going to crash on his head."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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