Goosen, Els still getting it done at Opens
Going back a decade or more, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els were two guys who you figured could contend at U.S. Opens all the time. Els won the 1994 and 1997 editions of the Open, and Goosen was victorious in 2001 and 2004.
Saturday, the South Africans — Els is from the metropolis Johannesburg, while Goosen hails from the northern city of Pietersburg (now called Polokwane) — played in back-to-back morning groups. They each made the cut by two strokes and will continue play today
They may not be at the standards they used to meet, but the over-40s showed they can still hit a ball around a golf course, shooting some of the best rounds of the day at Pinehurst No. 2.
After an opening 74, Els shot an even-par 70 on Friday to stay in the hunt for making the cut. He hit 25 greens in regulation in the first two rounds, 69 percent. On Saturday, with increasingly tougher conditions after virtually no rain overnight and USGA-aided firmer greens, he shot a solid 72, notching four birdies but making a few “silly errors” along the way.
“I wouldn’t call 72 a low score,” he said. “But I played better than my score. You’ve got to play well to score well. And I think that’s fair.”
Els, who sits at 6-over through three rounds, 14 shots behind leader Martin Kaymer, has been a good player since his victories in the U.S. Open in the 90s. He won two British Opens ten years apart in 2002 and 2012, the latter being his most recent victory on the PGA Tour. His latest win anywhere was last June in the BMW International Open on the European Tour, his 66th professional victory.
So he’s not exactly just some old guy hitting the ball around because he has the exemption. He even sounds like he belongs still, pointing out where he messed up, particularly sixes on holes No. 5 and 16.
“Today was my day and I let it slip,” he said of his third round. “I made some really bad errors. That’s a four-shot swing there (on 5 and 16). If you take away those four shots, I’m at a better shot.”
Goosen also sat at 4-over after the opening rounds and shot a second-consecutive 71 despite harsher conditions on Saturday. He was quite humble about it.
“I actually didn’t play that well today, tee to green,” he said. “I missed a lot of fairways, but I got a bit lucky in that wispy stuff and I made a few great up-and-downs.”
Unlike Els, Goosen hasn’t won a major since his Open victories. He contended at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst the year after his 2004 win, even playing in the final group on Sunday, but his win at The International in August 2005 was his last for four years until March 2009. In 2011, he dropped out of the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in over a decade.
This Open was the last one he could play in from his exemption based on his 2004 victory. He said that was big motivation this week.
“If I can get a nice low round in tomorrow and get myself back in the top 14 or something, that qualifies automatically next year,” said Goosen, who is 5-over for the tournament, 13 shots out of the lead. “I’ve had a good run in the U.S. Open and if I make it into next year, great.”
Both players admitted that things would be harder for the guys in the afternoon.
“They made sure that there’s no low scores out there,” Goosen said. “Every pin was pretty much in its toughest position out there today.”
Els, who said he was just “playing for position” today, was very complimentary of the course.
“I think it’s a really good test,” he said. “You have to play away from some flags, and they give you opportunity for other ones. It’s a great setup.”