Two seconds for SA at US Masters

11 April 2007

Take a look at most US websites and you would be forgiven for thinking that Zach Johnson won the US Masters with Tiger Woods finishing alone in second place. Actually, there was a three-way tie for second, with South Africans Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini joining Woods two shots behind Johnson.

A brutal Augusta National course prevented any player finishing under par as Johnson secured the famed green jacket with a one-over-par total of 289 after posting rounds of 71, 73, 76, and 69.

Woods went around in 73, 74, 72 and 72 for his three-over total of 291, while Goosen and Sabbatini matched him.

Goosen fired the only sub-par score of the third round that destroyed the hopes of many players, carding a two-under 70, followed by a 69 over the final 18 holes. Sabbatini closed with a 73 and a 69.

Fantastic turnaround
It was a fantastic turnaround for the Goose who had just made the cut on eight-over-par after successive rounds of 76.

Augusta played so tough that many experts likened it to a typical US Open Championship, a tournament Goosen has won twice previously. Thus, it came as no surprise when he was asked afterwards whether he was hoping for another US Open-type day in the final round.

The South African star responded by saying that the course was set up with tough pin placements, but the organisers didn’t go overboard. “I think they have got the perfect mix here,” he said.

“I think they knew that they could make it silly, and that’s what they didn’t want to do and they just got it to where the scores look like just around par.”

Edged into the lead
Goosen edged into the lead on the inward nine as he bid to become the first South African since Gary Player in 1978 to win the Masters. However, as he put it, “I just couldn’t buy a putt at the right time.”

Sabbatini, meanwhile, led briefly after sinking a spectacular 75-foot putt on the eighth hole. It earned him an eagle and entertained the crowd as the man from KwaZulu-Natal raced around doffing his visor and celebrating.

Later, he again briefly held the lead on the thirteenth.

However, the efforts of the two South Africans came up short as little-heralded Zach Johnson matched the pair with a 69 of his own to win his first major title.

‘A very special moment’
Sabbatini, though, wasn’t disappointed to finish second in the Masters. Speaking after his 69, he said: “Obviously it’s a very special moment. My history in majors has been far from anything spectacular. One of my goals the past year has been to improve on my performance in the majors.

“So obviously this is a great start to the year and hopefully something to build on. Obviously being here at the Masters and, you know, in the renowned company that we’re in, to be able to play the way that I did, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Sabbatini was also asked to give his thoughts on his fellow South Africans’ performances, given that he and Goosen finished second, while Tim Clark took second in 2006.

“I think you forget about Ernie, too. I think he’s had a couple of seconds here,” he answered.

‘A great junior programme’
“Obviously, Gary’s (Player) not the only one who can get it done. But no, you know, it’s just . I don’t know what it is. But there is a great junior programme down in South Africa and there just always seems to be those waves of golfers that come through.

“Tim and I came through and now you seem to get Charl Schwartzel and Trevor Immelman and some of the younger South Africans coming through. It’s just a great tradition of golfers there and, you know, hopefully something that we can continue to develop over the years.”

Apart from Goosen and Sabbatini, Tim Clark enjoyed another good showing at the Masters, although his effort was ruined by an 80 in the third round. He led at the halfway mark on two-under-par 142 after successive rounds of 71.

A closing 73 saw Clark tie for thirteenth on eight-over 296.

Trevor Immelman finished 21 shots behind the winner, Johnson, after rounds of 74, 77, 81, and 77 left him on 21-over-par 309.

Ernie Els, after posting 78 and 76, missed the cut, as did Gary Player after rounds of 83 and 77.

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