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Goosen wins the US Open in playoff

Retief Goosen captured the 101st U.S. Open Championship Monday, posting a two-shot victory over Mark Brooks in an 18-hole playoff at Southern Hills Country Club. The seemingly stoic 32-year-old became the third South African to win the title, joining countrymen Gary Player and Ernie Els as champions of the United States Golf Association's premier event.

Goosen's first win on U.S. soil was sweet not only because it came in one of golf's four coveted major championships, but also for the reason that it effectively erased the significance of his disastrous three-putt bogey on Sunday's final hole that forced the extra round in the first place.

"I definitely had to work hard for this one," said Goosen, who earned the first prize of $900,000 and an invitation to the next 10 U.S. Opens. "It's been a long week, it feels like a year out here."

At the 18th hole Sunday, Goosen squandered a brilliant six-iron approach to 15 feet by rapping his first putt past the cup before unbelievably missing the two-footer on the comeback. The nightmare bogey dropped him into a tie for the lead with Brooks, who fashioned a final three-putt of his own to finish 72 holes of regulation at four-under-par 276.

A disheartened Brooks was cleaning out his locker and just about to head for the parking lot when Goosen's blunder gave him new life. But after a solid start in Monday's overtime, Brooks became erratic while Goosen displayed the watertight game that kept him atop the leaderboard through all four rounds of the championship.

A two-shot swing in Brooks' favor at the 17th cut Goosen's lead to three shots with one hole to play. But Brooks, who struggled off the tee all day, sent his most important drive into the right-hand rough. He chose a fairway wood for his awkward approach and did well to run his ball into the bunker short and left of the final green.

Goosen found the 18th fairway with his drive, then hit a five-iron that landed short of the green and rolled 20 yards back down the slope. Taking no chances with his tight uphill lie, Goosen used a putter to knock his ball onto the putting surface, but was left staring at a 25-footer for his par.

Brooks blasted out of the trap to three feet to set up a closing par for a two-over 72. Goosen left his bid for par five feet short, but this time rolled in the clinching putt for an even-par 70 that saw him become just the sixth foreign-born winner of the U.S. Open in the last 70 years.

"When I got up this morning, I was more comfortable than I was Sunday morning," said Goosen, who seemed almost unfazed by the almost shocking turn of events on the 72nd green the day before. "I knew I had a 50 percent chance of winning."

For Brooks, whose playoff win in the 1996 PGA Championship marked his last victory on tour, life will go on after what was a rare week in the spotlight.

"I've been in contention at a few of these things. It still is just a golf tournament," he said. "It's important while you're out there, but it's not going to change my life one way or another, if I'd won or lost. It would have been nice to win, and I'll try to win again."

"I got punished severely in the rough today and that was kind of the difference," said Brooks, who tied for third in fairways hit over the week but found the short grass just seven of 14 times in the playoff.

After trading pars with Goosen on the first two holes, Brooks drew first blood at the par-four third when he made a five-footer for birdie and a one-shot lead.

Brooks then began a streak of five straight missed fairways at the fifth, and although Goosen didn't take advantage on that hole, he soon managed to even the score with a five-foot birdie putt at the par-three sixth.

Locked in the rough at the seventh, Brooks couldn't reach the green and took a bogey that gave Goosen a lead he would not relinquish. Two holes later, Brooks' drive landed at the base of a large tree and he could only advance his second shot about 15 yards. Goosen, however, made the green in two and drained a 15-foot birdie for a two-shot swing.

Goosen, who made a number of great up-and-downs to save par all week, was 3- for-3 with sand saves on the front nine on Monday.

Goosen was firmly in command after picking up another two strokes at the 10th. Brooks bogeyed after he was forced to play his second shot out of the high grass and back into the fairway. Goosen was also in the rough but hit the green, then rolled in a breaking 10-footer for a birdie and a five-stroke lead.

Though the difference was still five when the players both dropped shots at the 12th, the hole took a greater toll on Brooks, who chunked a wedge shot after also hitting a tree from the tee en route to his fourth bogey in the span of six holes.

The pair parred the next four holes. Brooks had chances to close the gap but missed birdie putts of five and six feet at the 15th and 16th, respectively.

Goosen missed the green at the 17th and wound up carding a bogey. Brooks had a

slight glimmer of hope heading into the last hole after trimming the margin to three. He rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt to complete another two-shot swing, but three shots proved to be too many to make up on a single hole, even one with such a recent history of treachery as the 18th.

Goosen, a man who endured being struck by lighting as an amateur, can be forgiven if he forgets a minor detail regarding that final hole here and there.

"I started hitting the ball a lot better a few weeks ago, and just the putter wasn't working. And putting a new putter in the bag last week, it just helped. I mean, I made everything I looked at."

Almost everything he looked at.