Goosen barges through open door to win PGA Tour Champions’ Galleri Classic

Apr 1, 2024 | Featured, South Africans abroad

From PGA Tour Champions

Retief Goosen, with two closing pars on Sunday, stepped through a door left wide open by the leader, capturing his first PGA Tour Champions title in more than two years, stealing victory away in the Galleri Classic in Rancho Mirage, California.

Steven Alker was cruising along, seemingly in complete control, holding his pursuers at bay, needing just a couple of pars to put the finishing touches on what would be his second victory of the young season. And then everything flipped on him.

Alker, who had made but one bogey in his first 52 holes, three-putted the par-three 17th – making bogey there for the second time – and followed by hitting his approach into the water at the par-five 18th at Mission Hills Country Club’s famed Dinah Shore Tournament Course, leaving a door ajar.

South Africa’s Goosen, 55, a two-time US Open champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member, won for the third time on PGA Tour Champions. He was just idling along on the back nine, racking up pars but making up little ground on the steady Alker, who was putting on a ball-striking display.

Even with a 10-footer for birdie at the par-four 15th, Goosen felt as if he just had not done enough to challenge. But things got hectic on the final two holes. Goosen made a great save for par out of a short-side bunker to keep his flickering chances alive at the par-three 17th, where Alker three-putted after running his slick downhill first putt eight feet past the hole. At the 531-yard finishing hole, both he and Alker found the right rough with their drives, just a few feet apart. Both had a decision to make. Lay up or go?

The approach calls for a shot over water, and Goosen went first, thinning a low four-iron that crashed woefully into the penalty area, seemingly drowning his tournament hopes, too. He expected Alker, his opponent and World Champions Cup teammate, to lay up and make birdie that way, but Alker instead ripped a five-iron from 199 yards out that carried the hazard but hit the steep fronting bank and trickled back into the water. Goosen wedged his fourth from the other side of the water to eight feet. Alker was able to drop just off the green, but from a steep uphill lie, his pitch from 35 yards finished about 30 feet short. He missed his par attempt, Goosen made his, and at 13-under 203, Goosen was the winner. The finish was stunning.

“I’m sure it’s happened, I can’t quite remember (when), but I’m glad it flipped my way,” said Goosen, who shot a bogey-free round of three-under 69 Sunday. “It was a really bad second shot (that I hit), you know? Ball was sitting up quite nicely, and I was in between a five and a four (iron) and I thought I’d just hit a smooth four, and I completely thinned it.

“After I hit it in the water, I thought Steve was going to lay up and just go from there. But he hit it in the water, it was kind of a shock, too. We were kind of surprised at that as well.”

One key in Goosen’s victory on Sunday was how he had finished a day earlier (four-under 68) when temperatures cooled and the wind kicked up and players were giving away shots down the homestretch of the second round. Goosen birdied four of his final five holes and came within one turn of the golf ball from making it five straight to finish.

“Conditions were tough yesterday, and I made up some ground on those finishers,” Goosen said Sunday. “Today, I got off to a slow start, managed to make a good putt on 10, and from there, I was just hanging in. Obviously the birdie on 15 was crucial. Then, yeah, Steven finishing bogey-bogey is all my luck.”

Behind him, Ernie Eks closed with a two-under 70 to move to four-under for the tournament and a share of 17th.

As Goosen stood on the final green waiting for Alker to clean up his short bogey putt, Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins commented, “He looks like the cat who ate the canary… Five holes to go, Retief was a complete afterthought.”

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