PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) – Last year, the stoic walk up the final fairway was a victory march for Retief Goosen. This time, the 18th hole felt more like an escape route.

The U.S. Open finally caught up to Retief The Robot on Sunday, turning what was supposed to be a coronation for one of the best players in the game into an out-and-out embarrassment.

“I played rubbish at the end of the day,” he said. “There is nothing else to say.”

For Goosen, “rubbish” can be defined like this: He shot 11-over-par 81. He turned a three-stroke lead into an eight-stroke loss. First place became a tie for 11th. A chance at history morphed into an ugly footnote.

He ended the final round not contending for his second straight Open title but merely hoping to win a friendly bet with playing partner Jason Gore, who was equally awful, over the last three holes.

After hitting his final approach, Goosen took off his cap, ran his fingers through his hair and trudged toward the green, the formality of a two-putt the only thing standing between him and the end to a long, difficult day. From the expression on his face, it was hard to tell if he was in first place or last.

But the patient, steady play that had served him so well through his previous seven rounds of U.S. Open competition had left him much earlier in the day.

Looking back as far as the records would take them, USGA officials said Goosen’s 81 tied Gil Morgan (1992 at Pebble Beach) for the worst final round ever for a U.S. Open leader. On that day, Morgan could blame high winds that victimized most of the field.

At Pinehurst, the villain was the course and Goosen’s own game – he needed 36 putts – not the weather. Heading into play Sunday, the smart money said the Open was pretty much over, with Goosen ahead by three strokes and journeymen Gore and Olin Browne his closest competition.

Even his competitors were ready to put his name on the trophy.

“I don’t think any player is better than him in the U.S. Open, Tiger included,” Ernie Els said after finishing around the time Goosen teed off.

And Stewart Cink: “His composure is up there with the best of them and he won’t let it go south.”

Had either man seen Goosen’s front nine, they would have been shocked.

It started going downhill on the second hole, when he missed the green to the right, then overhit his chip and rolled it onto the other side. His putt went 8 feet past and after two more putts, he had double bogey.

By the time the Goose had reached the turn, he was trailing Campbell by two. By the time Goosen hit No. 11, tournament officials had put him and Gore on the clock, not because they’re slow by nature, but “because we had just had to hit so many shots,” he said.

By No. 12, Goosen knew he wasn’t going to win.

“Basically, the last seven holes, I was trying to finish the round and get on,” he said. “There was nothing to play for.”

It was a disheartening end to a week that began with Goosen complaining about not getting the attention normally afforded a defending U.S. Open champion and continued with the golf world starting to come to grips with the idea that, boring or not, Goosen really did belong up there with the game’s elite.

In the end, he still finished third among the Big Five, behind Woods and Vijay Singh but ahead of Els (15th) and Phil Mickelson (33rd), both of whom played themselves out of the tournament before the weekend.

Still, it was a stunning decline for a player previously thought unflappable. And in the end, even he proved vulnerable to beastly Pinehurst No. 2, its humpbacked greens and the overall difficult conditions.

“I am very disappointed in the way things turned out today,” Goosen said. “I would have liked to have been at least up there, coming down the last five holes, having a chance.”


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