VICTORIA, B.C. — With the eyes of the world on his native South Africa, it should surprise no one the ever-reticent Retief Goosen got the heck out of town.
With a World Cup match set to be played in his hometown of Polokwane today, the two-time U.S. Open winner will be on Vancouver Island quietly going about trying to pocket his first Telus World Skins Game title. And while his nine-hole tour of Bear Mountain’s Mountain course netted him five birdies, five skins and the lead at $75,000 Monday, the 41-year-old is keeping close tabs on what’s going on back home.
“The other day my brother said he was up at our golf club — we only have one course there in my hometown — and there were 500 Mexicans cleaning the place out of all its tequila,” laughed Goosen, off most of the last two months with a broken finger.
“My brother says it’s been a great atmospheres — the whole country is behind it. Let’s hope something good comes from it.”
After a frustrating week at Pebble Beach for four of the five Skins participants, plenty of good came out of the nine-hole exhibition that gave the 5,000 fans lining every fairway the rare opportunity to see PGA players, gulp, have fun.
Shortly after crowd favourites Mike Weir and Fred Couples teed off on the second hole, followed by Goosen and Camilo Villegas, England’s Ian Poulter was floored by a confused fan who urged him to “Bend it like Becker.”
Backing away twice to collect himself, the thoroughly amused Brit offered an “Oh Dear” before launching a Beckham-like draw that delighted the sold-out gallery.
Asked afterwards if he’d laughed like that at the U.S. Open, Villegas interrupted.
“I was definitely not laughing when I made eight on 14,” laughed Villegas, who summed up the thoughts of all but Couples who participated at Pebble, where the 14th hole was considered too tricked up.
“The USGA knows what I think about them. It’s a little goofy, I would say. When you have one guy a day making a seven or eight fine, but when you have five, six, seven guys a day making sevens and eights we’ve got a little problem with that one.”
Known for his physique and flashy dress, 28-year-old Villegas followed up a monstrous drive by the 50-year-old Couples on 9th hole by saying, “I know Freddie is old but I cannot hit it by him.”
Couples, who drew ohs and ahs from women all afternoon as he sauntered around the rolling course, responded by saying, “You’re right about part of that.” Seconds later, Villegas bombed it 15 yards past Couples.
Minutes later, while lining up a 20 footer for eagle and $60,000, the man they call Spiderman for getting on all fours around the green, was egged on by the crowd to “do the spider!” After hesitating and flashing a huge smile, he obliged to the crowd’s delight.
“I had to — they were screaming it,” beamed the Colombian, who missed the putt, putting $80,000 on the line for today’s 10th hole.
“The crowds here are unbelievable. People don’t work here in Canada on Monday and Tuesdays?”
Couples, who has been plagued by back issues throughout his career, smiled when Villegas’ acrobatics were followed by a cat-call urging “Spider, Fred!”
“I call this the best two days of the year on tour,” said Couples, a.k.a. The King of Skins with 68 of em for $1.2 million.
“Two things can happen here – you can play like Retief did today and birdie every hole and win skis or you can play so-so and hit a few good shots. I usually take the second route.”
Poulter finished with one skin for $15,000 while Couples, Villegas and Weir were shut out. Play resumes today with the balance of $360,000 up for grabs.