PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Retief Goosen didn’t find this to be a cause for celebration, but he turned 40 last week. He had a quiet dinner with his coach and caddie and was in bed by 9 p.m.
“Felt a bit depressed about that,” he said with a laugh.
But there is no correlation between a milestone birthday and the 36-hole lead in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he took only 24 putts in the second round at Pebble Beach on his way to an 8-under 64 and a two-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.
Goosen was taking stock long before he was blowing out candles.
It began early last year when he looked in the mirror and saw a slightly expanding waistline, and looked at the world ranking and saw a rapidly shrinking number attached to his name.
Once part of the “Big Four” in golf, Goosen nearly plunged out of the top 50 in the world last year. And even now, with two victories on smaller tours during the winter in Asia and Africa, he arrived at Pebble Beach at No. 42, in the company of Aaron Baddeley and Oliver Wilson, not Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
“I would like to somehow turn my game around a little bit and just start playing a bit better,” Goosen said. “When you’ve been struggling, you don’t feel like going out there anymore. So I needed to try and turn everything around and get a bit more motivated.”
He has lost 16 pounds and gained immeasurable strength.
And he brought a number of changes to the Monterey Peninsula, starting with the fact that he’s playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time in his career.
He decided to play four in a row out west, starting last week at Torrey Pines and ending with the Accenture Match Play Championship. Goosen has struggled the most mightily with his putter, so he brought a belly putter to Torrey Pines.
It started to take hold this week, and he has 52 putts through two rounds on spongy, soft greens that really get bumpy with 360 players spread over three courses (half the field being amateurs).
The other change was a pair of prescription sunglasses that bring him into focus in overcast and cool days.
“Especially with the cold weather, it helps my eyesight a fraction,” he said. “This week is the first time I’ve played with them. I can see the greens a little better. It’s just a little sharper.”
About the only part of his game that is not particularly sharp is his driving, although Goosen atones for that with his putting, as he did on the back nine at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 when he won his second U.S. Open.
He one-putted the first six greens on the back nine, holing a tricky 6-footer for par on the 14th, then spinning a wedge back to 4 feet on the 15th hole to take the lead. He finished his round with another wedge to 3 feet for his 64.
Perhaps the best hole of his round didn’t require a putter at all.
After beginning another amazing day on the peninsula, where rain quickly gave way to sunshine, Goosen hit 3-iron to 8 feet for eagle on the par-5 second hole, then pulled his tee shot badly on the par-5 fifth along Stillwater Cove. Hopeful of getting up-and-down for his par, he watched the ball track toward the cup and disappear for an unlikely birdie.
“That was more of a swing for me than the second hole,” he said.
Next up for Goosen is a trip to Spyglass Hill, considered the toughest of the three courses in the rotation.
Johnson was there on Friday, and it was a mostly memorable round, at least at the start. He made four birdies in the first six holes and figured to pick up another one on the 325-yard 17th, which bends to the left. Big hitters – and Johnson is one of them – and carry the bunkers easily and leave only 40 yards to the green.
The only problem is a big hook, and Johnson had a problem.
He wound up in the trees, clipped a tree trying to escape, pitched up short of the green, chipped to 4 feet and watched his putt circle around the cup and stay out, giving him a double bogey.
“But then I played good the rest of the way in,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of good putts, but just nothing went in.”
Johnson will go to Poppy Hills and its five par 5s for Saturday, which might be an advantage. Then again, Robert Garrigus is a big hitter, and he only managed a 71 at Poppy in the second round, playing the par 5s in 1 under.
Garrigus was at 8-under 136, joined by Mike Weir and Mark Calcavecchia, who each had a 69 at Pebble Beach. Weir has six top 10s in his 11 starts at this tournament, and he might feel this place owes him one.
Calcavecchia is a mystery.
He has played only two other times this decade, each time swearing never to return. He might have been thinking too much this year on his plan to play, although it appears to be working.
“My theory was the weather was dead perfect at the Hope and Phoenix and I missed the cut in both of them,” he said. “So I thought I would come up here and freeze my butt off – cold, wind and rain – and see how I did. It seems to be working out.”
The highest-ranked players continue to occupy the bottom part of the leaderboard.
British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington had a 73 at Pebble Beach as the breeze strengthened but the skies remained surprisingly clear, leaving him at 3-over 147 and in serious jeopardy of missing the cut. Also at 3 over was Singh, who had a 75 at Pebble Beach.
Phil Mickelson, a two-time champion at Pebble Beach who is off to a slow start this year, got up-and-down from a greenside bunker on his final hole at Poppy Hills for a 71, leaving him 11 shots out of the lead.