Goosen Cracks Whip, and Pinehurst Bends
By DAMON HACK Published: June 19, 2005PINEHURST, N.C., June 18 - As shadows crept across pine needles Saturday, two very different players tried to tame a golf course running wild. In a dark cap and buttoned-up shirt stood the little-known Jason Gore, who briefly clutched the lead at the United States Open at Pinehurst No. 2 until Retief Goosen took it back and refused to relinquish it.
Doug Mills/The New York TimesRetief Goosen took a three-stroke lead with a one-under 69. At 207, he is the only player who is below par for the tournament. More Photos >
818 Is His Ranking, Not His Area Code Day 3 at the Open When he sank a birdie putt from a swale beside the 18th green to grab a three-shot lead over Gore and Olin Browne, Goosen had the unmistakable aura of a man who had withstood pressure in all its forms.
Mark Hensby of Australia and Michael Campbell of New Zealand trailed Goosen by four strokes while David Toms was five shots back. Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood of England were part of a group that trailed by six shots. Vijay Singh and Peter Jacobsen, who made a hole in one, were seven strokes behind.
Goosen, who will be paired with Gore in Sunday's final round, shot a one-under 69 for a three-day total of three-under 207. He was the only player who was under par for the tournament entering the final round, a testament to the steeliness that has defined him.
Sunday's forecast called for mostly cloudy skies, with occasional showers and an afternoon thundershower possible. Cooler temperatures were expected, with a high of 78 degrees.
Should he win, Goosen would become the first player to win back-to-back United States Open titles since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
"At the beginning of the week, we expected no one to be under par," the 36-year-old Goosen said. "It's not easy to make up ground on this golf course, but it's easy to lose ground. If I can go one or two under, I think I've got a good chance to win."
Hensby said: "I don't think you're going to catch Retief. Obviously, he's figured out how to win the U.S. Open."
In 2001, Goosen overcame heat and the fast conditions at Southern Hills to win his first Open. Last year, he kept his head still and expertly putted the dicey greens of Shinnecock Hills to claim his second Open title.
Each time, Goosen led or shared the lead going into the final round. Each time, he did not smile or frown, whether his ball ended up in the bottom of the cup or in a gorse bush.
Goosen made birdies on three of his final five holes Saturday, but it was Gore who seemed to steal the gallery's affections. Gore, a little overweight and a lot out of his element, plays on the Nationwide Tour. He earned his way into the Open through a sectional qualifier. Eight years ago, on the day he turned professional, his father died of a heart attack.
When Gore made a birdie on 18 to finish at 72, he pointed at the cup and gave his caddie a fist-pump, two celebratory moves straight from the Woods playbook. Gore and Woods have been friends since their youth in Southern California.
"I was trying to keep my emotions in check," the 31-year-old Gore said of his walk to the 18th green. "I could feel myself crying, or on the verge. When I made the putt, I looked at my caddie and said, 'Did I just point that ball into the hole?' He said, 'Yes,' and I said, 'What a cheeseball.' "
Woods could not help smiling for his friend.
"We go back to Peewee leagues," said Woods, who shot 72. "He has all of the talent in the world. It was just a matter of fine-tuning his swing, and he's done just that."
Browne, who also shot 72, called Gore "the story of the Open."
"He's a guy they've never heard of and yet they are digging his play," Browne said, referring to the gallery.
Gore and Goosen could not present more different personalities. Gore is all emotion. Goosen is all business.
Goosen held a one-stroke lead over Gore through 12 holes, but he ran a birdie putt from a swale off the 13th green and down a hill. He chipped to 12 feet and missed the putt, for a double bogey.
At that moment, Gore led by one stroke as he played the par-4 14th hole, but he soon committed his own errors. Gore sent his fourth shot, a chip, sailing past the pin, leaving him a 25-footer for bogey, which he missed.
When he tapped in for a double-bogey 6, Goosen shared the lead with Hensby at even par.
Gore had held the lead for six minutes.
Nothing seemed to last at Pinehurst, except unpredictability.
"Momentum is not even a word that you can associate with this golf course," Corey Pavin, the 1995 United States Open champion, said after shooting an even-par 70 to stand at five-over 215. "I think survival might be a good word."
Toms's round fluctuated between extremes. He opened with two birdies on the front nine before the back dealt him a birdie and three bogeys for an even-par 70.
"It seems like you can't be aggressive at all," Toms said. "As soon as you try, you make a double."
Toms said that Pinehurst No. 2 was playing the way a United States Open should - testing the players in all facets.
"You should never back in to win a major championship," he said. "You should have to play well."
Woods, who began the day three shots off the lead, saw it doubled, leaving his hopes for four majors in one calendar year in jeopardy. There are quality names above him, players looking to scrawl their names into the trophy - a veteran like Goosen and a chubby-cheeked man named Gore.
"It's the Open," Gore said. "I know that. But it's still golf."