PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — The greens were so crusty, firm and scary fast that Retief Goosen felt as though he was back at Shinnecock Hills, where his putting carried him to victory in the U.S. Open.
Needing only two putts from 25 feet to win Sunday, he was thankful it didn’t turn out like Southern Hills.
Goosen ran his putt 5 feet past the hole, steadied his nerves and curled in the par putt for a one-shot victory at the Transitions Championship, his first victory on the PGA Tour in nearly four years.
“It was great to see that putt go in,” Goosen said. “The greens got scary. Down those last few holes, they were definitely getting like Shinnecock was. You just cannot hit them soft enough. It was really tough.”
Goosen closed with 1-under 70 to avoid a playoff with Brett Quigley and Charles Howell III, an Augusta, Ga., native who can only return to the Masters with a victory.
Both had a birdie putt in the groups ahead of Goosen to catch him. Both ran it well past the hole and made it coming back.
“You’re in the back of the tub trying to stop it short of the drain,” Quigley said describing the putt they all had.
Equally famous in Goosen’s career was a three-putt bogey from 12 feet on the final hole at Southern Hills, which nearly cost him the 2001 U.S. Open until he won it the next day in an 18-hole playoff.
“It was disappointing to hit it that far past. I didn’t want to have another U.S. Open there,” Goosen said. “I felt good with my putting, and there wasn’t too much indecision with the one coming back. It was nice to see it go in.”
Howell was tied for the lead with four holes to play, but made two straight bogeys and shot a 69 for his best finish since he won at Riviera two years ago. He will have to win at Bay Hill or the Shell Houston Open to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 2002.
“If Retief’s 5-footer lipped out, I wouldn’t have cried,” Howell said. “That golf tournament means more to me than anything.”
Quigley, now 0-for-342 in his 13 years on the PGA Tour, was bogey-free on the back nine and shot 68 for his second runner-up finish in as many weeks.
Former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, trying to become the seventh player in his 50s to win on the PGA Tour, did not make a birdie until a long putt on the 17th hole, and he shot a 75 to tie for eighth.
Goosen won twice in the fall in South Africa and Asia, but this was his first PGA Tour victory since he won the now-defunct International in August 2005.
“Eventually, you wonder if you can still do it,” Goosen said.
He did it the way he usually does – with a pure putter on the toughest greens.
One of the biggest came early in his round, when he holed a 15-foot par putt that kept him from sliding out of contention. He chipped in from behind the ninth green to get back in the mix, then took the outright lead with an 18-foot eagle putt at No. 11.
What won him the tournament, though, was a series of nervy par putts along the back nine that kept him in front, and a splendid chip from behind the 17th green to save par and give him a cushion going to the last hole.
“When greens get so crusty and fast, I just tend to be able to control my stroke better on these quicker putts,” Goosen said. “I think if I putted on greens like this all year long, I’ll enjoy it.”
Goosen finished at 8-under 276 and won for the seventh time on the PGA Tour. It was his second victory at Innisbrook, having won in 2003 when it was played in the fall.
This looked more like June with greens that had patches of brown and developed a yellow sheen going into the weekend.
“It definitely got like Shinnecock,” he said. “You couldn’t hit them soft enough.”
Lehman, who turned 50 two weeks ago, had a one-shot lead going into the final round as he tried to become the first ex-Ryder Cup captain since Tom Watson in 1998 to win on the PGA Tour.
He hit a poor chip on the second hole that led to bogey and cost him the lead. That led to a revolving door of challengers, with five players atop the leaderboard at various points during the final round.
But the back nine was more about hanging on than forging ahead.
And for so many, it was about falling apart.
Steve Stricker rallied from a four-shot deficit to tie for the lead, but he couldn’t sustain it. After two solid par saves, he flew the green from a bunker on the par-3 17th for bogey, then missed the green from the middle of the 18th fairway and made another bogey. He closed with a 69 and tied for fourth.
It was the third time this year Stricker had the lead on the back nine and failed to win.
Charlie Wi chipped in twice on the front nine and made the turn with the outright lead, reaching 9 under until he was undone on the par 3s. He shot a 69 and tied for fourth with Stricker and Mathew Goggin (67).
“You ride on such a thin line on a track like this, where you just know every bogey hurts more than most, because you know it’s so much harder to make up,” Howell said.
Divots: Alvaro Quiros had eight drives over 300 yards in the final round, including one at 325 yards when he tried to clear the water on the 12th hole, and barely did. It didn’t help on the card, though. He closed with a 72. … A sign hanging from the bleachers behind the 17th green said, “We miss you JD. Get back soon.” That would be John Daly, who was seen having a few beers and signing autographs next to the 17th green after missing the cut last year. He is serving a six-month suspension.