Goosen's chase wins the heart of America

As Retief Goosen set off on his seemingly inexorable plod towards history in the US Open here yesterday it was tempting to believe that the South African was not only having to frustrate the professionals lining up behind him but also the American public lining the fairways. After all, the "In-The-Holers" and the "You-Da-Maners" have always shown themselves - rather disgracefully on occasion - to be far from wild about any Goosen chase.

As Retief Goosen set off on his seemingly inexorable plod towards history in the US Open here yesterday it was tempting to believe that the South African was not only having to frustrate the professionals lining up behind him but also the American public lining the fairways. After all, the "In-The-Holers" and the "You-Da-Maners" have always shown themselves - rather disgracefully on occasion - to be far from wild about any Goosen chase.

Except, something quite beautiful has happened here these past few days as the hollering masses have finally learnt to take golf's silent man to their patriotic hearts. But it has not gone entirely noticed. On Saturday evening, for instance, a number of the press came breathlessly back from the 18th green telling of the scandalous chorus of "boos" that greeted Goosen's 25-footer to take him three shots clear. Er, no lads the crowd were in fact chanting "Goose, Goose, Goose, Goose". And they had been all day.

So why the change, from Shinnecock Hills last year when the galleries did everything but throw things as Goosen outlasted Phil Mickelson? Perhaps, it is the realisation that they just could have been witnessing something fairly historic in US Open history, namely Goosen joining Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Willie Anderson in winning three "National Championships" in a five-year period. Some company. Must be some guy.

Or maybe it was the sight of their beloved Tiger Woods - the common man's primary link with the record books - scraping his putter along the ninth green on Friday, in between firing out all-too-audible obscenities with all the voracity of his forged titanium driver. Whatever, it could only be hoped that this new-found charity would be extended in what many were considering an inevitable victory march last night."He doesn't wave, he doesn't smile. Hell, he doesn't even doff his cap. But blimey, he does everything else like a winner," said Johnny Miller, the famed NBC commentator and former US Open champion.

Most notably, Goosen provided evidence of this indifferent approach to celebration when that putt on the last green on Saturday evening added even more blinding daylight between himself and Olin Browne and Jason Gore in second, and more tellingly, opened up a six-shot gap back to Woods on three-over. If any putt might be deemed as defining then it was surely that raking, beast of a hole-finder. But instead of punching the air, screaming to the gods, or simply pointing at the cup, the most you could describe Goosen as doing was curling the edge of his lips upwards. Do not - repeat do not - take this man on in poker.

Or, indeed, golf, especially around a course where, unbelievably, he had shot par or better in his first three rounds. Some felt that Pinehurst No 2 would not allow even this metronome to tick on and on without falling off the mantelpiece at least once, but they were surely forgetting that Goosen had gone bogey, double-bogey on the 12th and 13th, before bounding back with three birdies in five final holes that had terrorised every other competitor.

Nevertheless, the dreaded vicissitudes of time, the Pinehurst greens and that man Woods were still delaying the first back-to-back coronation since Curtis Strange in the Eighties. There were even a few soppy old romantics who saw a fairy tale unfolding for Gore, the 31-year-old roly-poly, ranked 818th in the world, but blessed with the teary eyes of a dream-walker and the smile of someone mouthing, "Is this really happening to me?" Indeed it was, as it might have been for Lee Westwood, still raging against a couple of bogeys on the stretch on Saturday that moved him from one tantalising shot behind Goosen at one point to six within a few merciless holes.

At least there were only five players separating the 32-year-old from the leader and at least there were so many positives still to take from once again being in contention in major. "I don't even want to think about the dark days, let alone talk about them," said Westwood after his third-round 73 confirmed him as leading Briton after Luke Donald slipped back with a 74. "That's history. I've moved forward, and I'm determined to keep heading in that direction. The aim is to get back in the top five in the world again and I think I can do it. When you've been there once you want it even more.

"It would probably mean more to me now, because I've had to work so hard to turn things round. But I feel I'm a better player now. I've changed my swing, and I think I'm a much better ball striker. I'm getting more and more used to how I swing now, and once it becomes second nature completely then I think I'll give myself plenty of chances to win."

There was the faintest sniff of glory for Westwood yesterday evening, as there was for Woods who announced it was burning his nostrils with its allure, declaring: "I'm one good round away from winning this championship." Easily said, but not nearly done when you are taking 36 putts a round, as Woods did on Saturday, and when you are leading the hitting the most greens in regulation charts but coming stone-cold last in the missed putts stakes. "The pins are going to be even tougher tomorrow," he said, as his gaze drifted to the monitor where the leader was ramming home yet another effort. "Damn. Goose just made birdie to go under par."

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