Major day of mischief by 'Ghost of 18'

Leading golfers at US Open were all left cursing run of final green
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The Independent Online

Any danger that golf was getting far too predictable was eliminated by the 18th hole at Southern Hills. The brute has not been conquered yet, and certainly not on Sunday night at what should have been the conclusion of the 101st United States Open. After half an hour of madness on the final green, the outcome was an 18-hole play-off yesterday between Mark Brooks and Retief Goosen.

"There must be some ghosts around here," Brooks said. "From what I have read no one has parred the 18th to win here." A par would have done for Brooks, Goosen or Stewart Cink, who were all at five-under par on the tee. All three took three putts at the last, but Goosen's, alas, was the most shocking. "It's the saddest thing I've ever seen in sports," Paul Azinger said.

The last green had been a concern all week, with officials of the US Golf Association watching worriedly during the practice rounds as players struck approach shots on to the green, which is titled back to front, and saw them run down the slope in front of the putting surface. To prevent the best players in the world being embarrassed, the green was hardly mowed for the rest of the week, with the result that it was running a fraction slower, and developed a more grainy character, than the other 17. It was enough to throw off the leaders as they came to the final hole.

Brooks, who was two under for the back nine at that point, was the first to do battle with the 18th and after safely finding the middle of the green, putted up the slope seven feet past the hole. He read a right-to-left break but the ball stopped just short of the right lip. "I hit it on the perfect line," Brooks said. "It would have gone in if I had hit it the right speed."

The three-putt gave Brooks a 70 for a four-under par 276. Goosen reached five under by holing from 15 feet at the 15th. Cink did so by hitting his approach to two feet at the 17th. When both drove into the fairway at the last, Brooks thought his chances had gone. "I figured I was done," he said. "I had got my stuff out of my locker."

Cink went over the green with his approach, while Goosen hit a courageous six-iron over the pin to 12 feet. Cink came up 20 feet short with his chip, pushed the putt two feet past and, electing to finish off, missed the one back. A double bogey gave him a 72 and left him at three under.

Now Goosen had two putts for the title. He hit the first too strong and had a two-footer coming back. That lipped out and he had to hole another from three feet to force a play-off with a 71. "I hit the first putt too hard but I could not understand how the second one went right on me," the 32-year-old South African said. "I made a good stroke, it just didn't go in."

The miss echoed those of Doug Sanders at St Andrews in 1970, with Jack Nicklaus winning an 18-hole play-off the following day, and Scott Hoch during a sudden-death play-off he eventually lost to Nick Faldo in the 1989 Masters.

Goosen said: "I am not happy at what happened on the 18th but I am not going to jump out of my hotel room. This is a learning curve for me."

Cink was similarly looking for whatever positives he could find. "It took me a little while to realise that I had lost the chance to be in the play-off," the 28-year-old American said. "I was feeling pretty bad for Goosen right there, and it's also fairly embarrassing to a point. But it didn't dawn on me until he had putted out that I was one back off the play-off, but I have a strong faith that if I had made mine he would have found a way to get down in two."

Sergio Garcia's chances collapsed on Sunday with a 77. The experience can only help for future occasions, his first three rounds showing he deserves, at the age of 21, to be a major contender. From Sam Torrance's point of view, however, the young Spaniard missed out on an opportunity to clinch his place in the European Ryder Cup team.

As for Tiger Woods, he will be back at Lytham for the Open and will once more be the player to beat. His swing was strangely out of sync on the first two days and his performance destroyed the myth that he can play badly and still hold up the trophy. His 12th place finish was his worst in a major since he was 18th at the Masters in 1999 but that will not worry the New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who will be playing with Tiger in the pro-am at Westchester tomorrow.

With only the three major trophies on his mantelpiece now, Woods said: "It was fun to win four majors in a row. I enjoyed it but more than anything I enjoy giving myself a chance on the back nine on Sunday. It was frustrating not doing that here but I have had my share and hopefully I will have my share in the future.

"I hit the ball as I wanted over the weekend but I was not able to control my trajectory in the wind on Thursday and that is what hurt me. I was not able to hit the ball where I wanted but I kept fighting. You can't dog it."