PALM HARBOR — Retief Goosen watched in disbelief as his 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at the Copperhead course raced 5 feet past the hole. He was trying to preserve a one-shot lead at the Transitions Championship, and he was going to be tested one more time.
With Brett Quigley and Charles Howell staying loose on the nearby practice green, he calmly sent the par putt into the left lip of the cup to secure victory.
Goosen's 8-under 276 clinched his second title at the Innisbrook tournament (he won in 2003 when it was a fall event) and his first PGA Tour win since 2005.
His 1-under 70 was all about hanging on, especially on the slick 18th green. After those two putts to win for the seventh time in his 19-year professional career, Goosen felt like he earned every penny of his $972,000 winner's check.
"I was trying to roll it down to a tap-in, but I don't think you can leave it short," he said. "It was disappointing to hit it that far past. I didn't want to have another U.S. Open. But I felt good about my putting. I just had a nice, confident stroke, and it was good to see it go in."
In 2001, he was in position to win the U.S. Open, but he missed a 2-footer for par. That forced a Monday playoff with Mark Brooks, whom he beat to win his first major.
While the Transitions isn't a major, it felt like one to Goosen. He started the day one behind leader Tom Lehman. While Lehman struggled to 4-over 75 after three days in the 60s, Goosen was hanging near the top with clutch putts and chips.
He chipped in on No. 9 for birdie and made the turn at par. He took the lead outright on 11 when he bombed a drive 350 yards and reached the 564-yard par 4 in two. He made a 17-footer for eagle to go to 9 under.
He just needed to hang on and did, barely. After four straight pars, he had a two-shot lead heading to the par-4 16th. But bogey shrank his lead to a shot. Then came a tricky chip from the 17th rough that landed just a few feet away for a tap-in par.
"It was a bad lie," Goosen said. "It could come up dead on you or it can come out fiery. I played it as good as I could play it. Anything could have happened there. That chip pretty much won me the tournament. I didn't want to go up 18 thinking I needed birdie to win."
Goosen was chased all day. Charlie Wi, a nonwinner on tour, got into the lead when he birdied 11, his fifth of the day. But he had three bogeys over his final six holes.
Howell took a share of the lead when he birdied 14, but consecutive bogeys dropped him into second. Steve Stricker lost his share of the lead with bogeys on 17 and 18. Quigley was 2 under on the back nine but matched his runnerup finish in the Puerto Rico Open one week ago.
"I watched last week when Michael Bradley made birdie, so this week I figured I wouldn't watch," Quigley said. "It was the same outcome. I think I need to play a little better."
Howell said he knew exactly where he was on the leaderboard, but he wasn't able to finish. "I told my caddie that four pars would win it," he said. "That's not taking anything away from the field, but those holes are that difficult. The 15th hole had the flag in the very front right. And then the last three holes, I can't find a birdie hole there."
Goosen couldn't, either, but he didn't have to. He had his trusty putter, making all 55 of his tournament putts within 5 feet.
"Almost sounds like Tiger Woods, doesn't it?" said Goosen, who removed the contact lens in his left eye after the sixth hole because it was bothering him. "On greens like this, you need to putt well. Every week the guy who putts the best is the winner, and that's what I did."
For Goosen, 40, winning on the PGA Tour again feels good. He has won four international events since 2005, but not against a field like Innisbrook's.
"Eventually you wonder if you can still do it," he said. "It's great to be in this position and actually pull it off."
Retief Goosen's final-round 70 (-1)