Goosen triumphs at Nebank Challenge

BY | Southern Africa Tour | 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge | Wrap | 06 Dec 2004
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Retief Goosen kept his head when all about him others were losing theirs to win the 2004 Nedbank Golf Challenge by six shots over the Gary Player Country Club course at Sun City on Sunday.

Goosen returned the day’s only sub-70 score, a 69, to go with earlier rounds of 70,71 and 71 to post a four-round total of 281 strokes to win by a half a dozen strokes over Australia’s Stuart Appleby and compatriot Ernie Els – who stood by the 18th green and watched in surprise as his finishing one-under 71 improved his position with almost every shot played by the men still out on the course.

And, with due acknowledgement to Rudyard Kipling’s ageless poem “If”, Goosen trusted himself and his swing when others were doubting theirs to triumph over the punishing new course conditions Gary Player had set before them.

So his was the crystal sphere and everything that goes with it – a cool $1.2 million and the added gratification of a job well done in 2004.

After winning his first Nedbank Challenge, after going down in a sudden-death play-off to Sergio Garcia in 2003, Goosen admitted that he had considered withdrawing because of the illness of his second child, daughter Ella, and a flu-ridden time of it in the Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii and for a long time it seemed he regretted having made the trip – although with his Sphinx-like demeanour you never can tell.

In the end Goosen’s triumph was down to his simply phenomenal chipping and pitching as time and again he missed greens, as all his opponents were doing, only to get the ball up and down from a variety of scruffy lies and seemingly impossible positions.

On a blustery day that the scoring was even worse than in round one, when none of the field broke 70, Lee Westwood joined the “Snowman’s Club” with a round of 80 after a back-nine of seven-over 43, Nick Price came home in 42 and defending champion Sergio Garcia ballooned to 15 over par (after having been 14 under the year before), Goosen put a lock on the trophy with an emphatic front-nine of five-under 31.

He birdied the long second, as you must, and then produced the stretch of holes that gave him a five-stroke advantage heading into the back-nine.

He birdied the par-four sixth, all but holed in one in making a birdie two at the seventh, hit a disappointing putt in trying for a birdie at the 8th and that delivered what turned out to be the coup de grace with a perfectly played ninth hole that resulted in an eagle three.

Goosen smashed a massive drive into the ideal position on the fairway; in fact so far did his tee-shot go that he was able to go for the island green with an 8-iron. His approach was of the soaring, pin-point variety and when he knocked his three-footer in for an eagle three it was as good as giving the reigning United States Open champion a handicap of five with just nine holes to play.

Goosen’s triumph, however, was soon to be met with unexpected disaster. He pushed his second to the right of the par-five 10th, the pre-cursor to running up a sloppy six after his only weak pitch of the week out of the matted kikuyu and when he cut his drive at the 11th in running up another dropped shot it seemed he had been inflicted with the drop-shot disease that turned the 24th version of the Nedbank Challenge into a disaster zone.

Not for long, mind you. At the short 12th Goosen drew a massive roar from his gallery when he rolled in a putt right across the green for a birdie two, but then gave it away again by leaking a shot at the 13th – the only other time in an amazing week that he failed to chip and putt from just off the green.

But instead of the leader feeling the cold breath of many pursuers in his neck he could stand on the 14th tee and survey a leader board of total devastation and notice that his lead was still five shots.

His playing partner Lee Westwood, who had stumbled to an ugly seven at the par-four eighth after allowing himself to become distracted by the woes of his caddie and local manager Mark Bell (in the absence of his regular looper) who had been treated for dehydration the previous day and again required medical attention, had by now blown a fuse while the like of Stuart Appleby, Chris DiMarco and Jim Furyk, after a promising run on the front-nine, were in a stupor of their own and way off the pace.

When Goosen hit a deft running chip to set up a birdie at the long 14th he effectively stripped the tournament of any remaining potential for drama and from then it was a walk in the park for a man who arguably handles difficult conditions better than any other golfer in the world.

Goosen could afford the luxury of dropping a shot at the 18th and still win by six and then announce, with some satisfaction, that it was time to rest on his laurels as far as 2004 was concerned – a year in which he silenced the doubters about his true worth by winning his second US Open at Shinnecock Hills and in which he won close to $7 million.

Source – Nedbank Challenge

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