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Goosen wants change to pay off

Sunday, April 06, 2008

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Retief Goosen hasn't been quite the same since he tied for second place in last year's Masters Tournament.

Retief Goosen blames his putting trouble on poor iron play: "If you keep hitting it 50 feet away, you're not going to make a lot of putts." He's trying to copy his putting stance from years ago. (Jackie Ricciardi/Staff)

Not that the runner-up finish -- his second since 2002 at Augusta National Golf Club -- was a mental blow he couldn't recover from.

Rather, it occurred in the early stages of a swing change that is taking him longer to implement than he would like. The changes have sent his name spiralling off leaderboards and out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

The runner-up finish was the lone top-10 PGA Tour finish of the season for Goosen, who dropped to 93rd on the money list, his worst year since joining the PGA Tour in 2001.

As a result of poor iron play, his world ranking, which was ninth at this time last year, had dropped into the high 30s during the Florida Swing leading to this year's Masters.

"If you play bad, you drop," the South African said. "If you play well, you climb. I've been playing bad for two years now and it shows. It's my goal to get things right. When you start playing better, that happens automatically."

Why would Goosen alter the swing that brought him two U.S. Open titles?

Because he didn't like the position of his plane at the top of the swing. He's been working with Orlando, Fla., instructor Gregor Jamieson to correct it.

"It's been a bit more than a year now. It's a lot better. It's just a question now of putting it into play. That's what I've been struggling with," he said.

When Goosen wanted to put the swing into tournament play early this year, he couldn't. He missed a month of action because of complications from LASIK surgery.

"It didn't quite work out the first time, so I had it done again two weeks later, so I ended up taking a month away from playing golf," he said.

Before the surgery, Goosen also had taken a month off, "so I ended up sitting on my backside for two months, and it didn't really help with the golf that much."

He didn't have a top-10 finish this year through the WGC-CA Championship in late March, which brought his streak of tournaments outside the top 10 to 15.

"I've hit some good shots and not got results, and then on top of that, my putting has been terrible. If you can't make any putts, you're not going to score," he said.

His putting woes at times have been a direct result of poor iron play.

"If you keep hitting it 50 feet away, you're not going to make a lot of putts," he said. "At least I'm starting to hit it a little bit closer now. I've changed my putting a bit. I went back to my putting stance of 2001 to 2004. I'm trying to copy what I had done then. It's better now. It's just a question of trusting it in tournament play."

It was Goosen's strong iron play in the final two rounds of the 2007 Masters that put him in the thick of things with nine holes to play.

After opening with a pair of 76s and making the cut on the number, Goosen shot 70-69 on the weekend to finish two shots behind Zach Johnson. His 5-under-par weekend was three shots lower than anyone else.

"I couldn't get it anywhere near the pins on the first two days, then you struggle on those greens," Goosen said.

"Then suddenly on Saturday I hit it close the first nine holes and made a lot of good putts. I just generally hit it a lot better on the weekend. It made putting a lot easier."

His 2-under-par 70 in the third round came in cold (high of 51 degrees) and windy (gusts of 23 mph) conditions that firmed up the already fast Augusta National greens. Sunday's weather wasn't much better -- 56 degrees with winds reaching 12 mph -- but Goosen shot 69.

"When I shot those two rounds, the best rounds on the weekend, it nearly won me the tournament," Goosen said.

Goosen was among a group of players tied for the lead when he headed to the back nine in the final round.

After 4-under 32 on the front nine, Goosen hit every green in regulation on the back nine but shot 1-over 37. He two-putted eight of the back-nine holes for pars and three-putted No. 12 for bogey.

"I hit nine greens in regulation. When you do that in a major you sort of think you have a good chance, and I ended up shooting 1-over that nine," Goosen said. "I had 19 putts on that back nine; that killed me. It was disappointing not to really have a chance to win it."

Since 2005, Goosen's finishes at the Masters have been: tie for third, tie for third and tie for second.

"One year I would like to go a little bit further," he said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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