PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Goosen still feels sense of belonging in 18th THE PLAYERS
March 11, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- March 11, 2020
- Retief Goosen is playing for the 18th time in THE PLAYERS Championship. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
By virtue of his victory at the 2019 Bridgestone SENIOR PLAYERS Championship, Retief Goosen will represent PGA TOUR Champions at THE PLAYERS Championship this week.
Teeing it up on the PGA TOUR is a perk the players enjoy, even though it hasn’t gone well at TPC Sawgrass. No winner of the SENIOR PLAYERS has made the cut since Mark O’Meara in 2011.
Nonetheless, Goosen, 51, is excited about the opportunity.
“Overall I think I can still compete on the PGA TOUR,” Goosen said. “They might hit it 30-40 yards past me, but if I can put in a birdie first that makes the hole a lot smaller for them. So it’s gonna be fun.”
The oft-diabolical Pete Dye design is rarely confused for fun. It certainly will be interesting to see how the course is set up after two brutal weeks of scoring on the Florida Swing. The Honda Classic saw only 30 weekend rounds in the 60s, which turned out to be a day at the beach compared to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Bay Hill crushed spirits last week; only one player broke 70 on the weekend and only one player shot under par cumulatively over the final two rounds.
Goosen is as familiar with TPC Sawgrass as any course on PGA TOUR. This will be his 18th start in the event, his last coming in 2016. The ledger of the World Golf Hall of Famer has been feast or famine in Ponte Vedra Beach. He has five top 25s and seven missed cuts. His best finish came in 2006, when he was solo second to his now fellow PGA TOUR Champions competitior Stephen Ames. He also posted a 12th-place finish in his last start there in 2016.
The South African native is coming off his worth finish of the season on PGA TOUR Champions, a T36 at the Hoag Classic in Newport Beach, California. He has one top 10 this season, a T4 at the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, after being named the rookie of the year in 2019.
“My game is OK,” Goosen said. “I haven't played well the last couple of weeks, but I've been working on a few things. Towards the end of last week I started hitting the ball a little better, so my driving wasn't particularly good.
“This week you need to drive it well, so I've been working pretty hard on my driving in the last couple of days and I'm going to go out on the course now and play the back nine with Branden Grace and just try and find a good comfortable rhythm to take into Thursday.”
Goosen is a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, which puts as much of a premium on hitting fairways as any event in golf. He is ranked only 46th in driving accuracy on PGA TOUR Champions, but he is ranked second in driving distance at nearly 300 yards.
Keeping up the distance would be nice, but he’ll have to hit more fairways than he has been if he plans on playing on the weekend.
“The thing about this golf course, you're on the edge all the time,” Goosen said. “It's a bit like a U.S. Open; every hole now has got some danger to it. The first few years there was a few holes that you sort of felt were all birdie holes, but now there's so much water and new bunkers and narrow fairways and longer tee shots.
“This is obviously the first time I'm playing the course, too, since they changed the 12th hole, so that's a whole new hole for me to have to sort of get used to and see how it's going to go this week. But the golf course is in really great condition and it's going to -- by the end of this weekend the greens are going to be really firm. I can see that coming.”
Current PGA TOUR Champions player Fred Funk won The PLAYERS when he was 48. He has high hopes for Goosen this week.
“Retief is representing the old guys,” Funk said. “I think he’ll have a great week. He hits the ball beautifully and is a really good player. Good luck, Retief.”
Funk’s win and Jim Furyk’s runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy last year, also at age 48, have Goosen hoping he can catch lightning in a bottle.
“It's still a golf course … it doesn't matter what age you are, but obviously it's easier hitting a 9-iron in than a 6-iron, but it shows you this golf course, if you play well, any guy can do well here,” Goosen said. “I mean, Jim played unbelievably, and Freddie Funk winning here when he was 48, yeah, you know, I would like to play well and see what happens by the end of the week and hopefully have a bit of a chance to take a run at it.”