Retief Goosen can barely step on a baked-out 18th green without the thought of a three-putt crossing somebody's mind. During the final round of the Transitions Championship, with Goosen safely aboard the 18th and needing two putts to win, NBC immediately went to the replay of Goosen's lip-out of a two-foot par putt on the 72nd hole at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills.
When Goosen, live and in living color, proceeded to rap his birdie putt five feet past the hole, he was suddenly thinking about Southern Hills too. "I didn't want to have another U.S. Open," he said.
Fortunately Goosen rolled the comebacker into the left side of the hole and allowed himself a smile. "It was nice to see it go in," he said afterward. But, really, besides NBC, was anyone surprised? Goosen did not miss from the five-foot range all week, making 55 of 55 from that distance and in. He also made 62 of 64 from 10 feet and in. "Almost sounds like Tiger Woods, doesn't it?" he said.
The victory, the 40-year-old Goosen's seventh on the PGA Tour and second at the Transitions, ended a four-year drought that had all the markings of a midlife crisis. There was weight gain, eyesight loss and a desperate fling with the belly putter. Most of the time Goosen looked nothing like the sinewy South African who rebounded from his misadventures at Southern Hills to win his first major there in a playoff and followed with another at the '04 U.S. Open, on the browned-out greens of Shinnecock Hills.
"Beginning of last year, I was looking at myself in the mirror thinking, I look a bit out of shape," Goosen said. "I thought, Instead of getting totally out of shape and struggling, I might as well be fit and struggling."
Goosen got on a fitness program, dropped 20 pounds and spent the winter practicing hard in South Africa, where he won the Africa Open in January. Two weeks ago he had laser surgery on his right eye and went back to the YES C-Groove putter he used to win his Opens.
At Innisbrook, Goosen hit the fitness center on Saturday and Sunday, hopping on one of the treadmills next to the floor-to-ceiling windows and working up a sweat among resort guests. He then outlasted Charles Howell and Brett Quigley to win by a stroke, solving one of the PGA Tour's toughest tracks, the 7,340-yard, par-71 Copperhead course. Goosen can now carry that confidence into the Masters at which he has four top three finishes since 2002.
Seven years ago, after finishing second to Woods at Augusta, Goosen joked that he ought to receive a pair of green trousers for being runner-up. If he putts at Augusta National the way he did at Innisbrook, he might get the green jacket this time.