Quiet Goose cooks field

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

He is a quiet assassin who never, ever uses two words when one will do.

His preference is to speak not at all. If he played a team sport where contrary nicknames abound, he'd be called 'Gabby.'

But Retief Goosen is making things hard on himself. It's becoming more and more difficult for him to smile and mumble inaudibly over the white noise of his more vocal opponents.

Goosen still is not a big name in North American sports, where the sound byte is valued above all. All Goosen does is win big tournaments. Twice he has won the United States Open and yesterday the invisible man came out of deep cover to snatch The Tour Championship away from Tiger Woods.

Woods, virtually unassailable as a closer when he has a 54-hole lead, was passed like he was standing still on the back nine at East Lake Golf Club yesterday.

In the end Goosen, playing with Mike Weir one group ahead of Woods, left him in his dust, a winner by four strokes with a final round 64, six-under for the day and 11-under for the tournament.

Woods knew he was in trouble early on yesterday. His game was out of sync and he was ticked at himself for letting a four-stroke lead drain away. He hadn't let a third-round lead get away in four years but he could feel this one slipping out of his control, despite starting the day tied with Jay Haas, four ahead of the closest pursuers.

"From the very start, I was hitting it good but I putted like a blind man,' Woods said. "Then I got my putter under control and couldn't hit a decent shot."

By the time Woods and Haas, who also struggled, made the turn, Goosen had drawn even, shooting 32 on the front nine.

"Disappointed?" Woods said.

"Of course. Jay and I were in great shape to win the tournament. The only thing we couldn't do was give those guys hope by coming back to them."

Woods and Goosen stayed more or less level until Goosen birdied the 13th hole, then the 15th and then the difficult 16th.

The race for the $1.08-million US first prize was over.

"Just when I got it going I looked up at the board and realized Goose was making birdie after birdie and I'm saying 'Hey, where you goin' bro?' " Woods said.

Goosen was going for the gold, that's where.

"Maybe in a way, I like to just hang around under the radar, with nobody bothering me for interviews," said Goosen who, by all accounts, has a much more animated personality in a private setting than he does when in the spotlight.

"I just show up and play and then hopefully on Sunday pick up the cheque and go home."

Under the radar would pretty much sum up Goosen's career, but not his game.

He surprises no one when he plays as brilliantly as he did yesterday. It's just that his quiet nature makes him easy to ignore in an era when a clever quote is a prized commodity.

Woods was asked if Goosen is as difficult to get a word out of with the other players as he is when the cameras and tape-recorders are rolling.

"He doesn't really talk," Woods said.

"We played in South Africa in the Presidents Cup. I played him in two matches and he didn't say one single word. That's hard to do."

"Well," responded Goosen, "Presidents Cup, you're not supposed to talk anyway. I'm supposed to intimidate him."

Goosen doesn't need to speak to intimidate even the very best players. He has the all-round game that makes him a threat every time he tees it up.

"There were no chinks in his armour (yesterday)," said Weir, who shot level-par 70. "He played perfect golf. He putted well, he hit it solid off the tee and with his irons.

"That's Retief Goosen golf."

At the end of the day, he smiled for the cameras, said a few words -- very few words -- and, as per the game plan, went home with the cheque.

That, too, is Retief 'Gabby' Goosen golf.


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