Sunday, June 20, 2004

Grinding It Out

You know it's a hard golf course when Ernie Els shoots 80 playing in the last group on the last day. Els is not a man known for wilting under US Open pressure. He's won the US championship twice and seemed poised to win it a third time until Shinnecock rose up and made him look like a 1 handicapper with a bad case of swing jinx.

At the end of a glorious Southhampton afternoon, it was Els's countryman, Retief Goosen, who emerged victorious, in what had to be the guttiest US Open performance since Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999. Throughout the afternoon, Goosen simply refused to yield. When Phil Mickelson finally did, with a nightmarish double-bogey on the par-3 17th hole, the South African put the tournament away with a textbook up-and-down on 17 and a lovely two-putt par on 18.

It was not what the NBC Sports gasbags had in mind as a made-for-TV outcome. They spent most of the broadcast pumping up a Mickelson run at the Grand Slam and bad-mouthing Tiger Woods. They were clearly rooting for a Mickelson win. But the better golfer (of the last four days) was in the group behind, grinding his way to victory. It wasn't pretty, but it was truly impressive.

When you win one, they can say it's a fluke. When you win two US Opens (and the second one in the howling wind at Shinnecock Hills), the only thing that can be said is that Retief Goosen is one of the great golfers of his time and a great champion.