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"I don't mind tough conditions," Retief Goosen said after his 1-over-par 71 Thursday in the wind and rain at Royal Birkdale. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ignoring the elements, Goosen proves the harder, the better

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You don't win two U.S. Open titles by being impatient and easily flustered. So Retief Goosen felt right at home Thursday at brutal Royal Birkdale, where the wind blew and the rain fell.

By Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England -- Those two U.S. Opens titles on his resume don't lie.

Retief Goosen has the patience and persistence to play difficult courses well. So it should come as no surprise to see the quiet South African among the leaders during the first round of the 137th Open Championship.

Goosen was nothing if not steady in those winds that whipped across the dunes hugging the holes at Royal Birkdale as he shot a 1-over 71 Thursday. He later said the round would probably have been a 65 on another course in more genial conditions.

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"I was very pleased," Goosen said. "I probably had similar weather on other golf courses but not as tough as this one. It played extremely tough. The ball was going absolutely nowhere into the wind. It was hard. It was pretty much every hole, it was pretty much a fight out there. There's a few very ornery (holes) out there, but overall very good round."

Ornery, indeed. The wind was gusting into the 30-mph range and the rain was coming down in sheets through much of Goosen's round with defending champion Padraig Harrington and Justin Leonard. Goosen, though, was bravely wearing a short-sleeved shirt and pullover wind jacket that he said made his arms look like chicken legs.

"I don't mind tough conditions," he said. "You sort of feel that maybe half of the field is sort of not trying anymore because they're tough conditions. You know if you grind away you shoot something around par, you're not going to be far off the lead. I like that ... you have to work for your pars.

"I'm not very comfortable on golf courses that you have to shoot 20 under par to win."

The way Royal Birkdale was playing on Thursday, it might take 20 rounds to get to 20 under. That's what made Goosen's round of four birdies, three bogeys and one double so impressive. He actually was 1 under through 14 holes before stumbling on the homeward stretch.

"I think he'd be happy to finish in 1 over even though he got it to 1 under," Harrington said. "(It was) a good, solid round. He probably (thought) that was as high as he was going to shoot today, which is a good sign, isn't it?"

Goosen hit half of his fairways -- although he said the wind was blowing so hard that he barely reached the short grass at the 436-yard 11th -- and 10 of 18 greens. He needed just 29 putts, too.

A chip-in for par from 20 feet at the sixth hole may have been the catalyst in Goosen's round. He had just made double bogey at No. 5 and hit his tee shot at the next hole into the left rough and missed the green with a 5-iron on the 499-yard par 4.

"The chip in, I think, sort of turned the nine around," Goosen said. "Those first few holes are very tough. Sort of from nine onwards, I sort of got my game. I hit a very good shot into 9. Making birdie there, turning at 1 over, you felt like you made up quite a bit of ground to the field just shooting 1 over on the front nine.

"I think the front nine is definitely the tougher nine the way it blew today."

Short sleeves or not, Goosen didn't exactly tarry as he briefly warmed up for his 7:58 a.m. tee time. The rain had awoken him at 2 a.m. so he knew what to expect. He got to the range at 7 a.m. but spent most of his time in the TaylorMade van rather than hitting balls.

"It was too cold and wet. I couldn't hit the ball," said Goosen, who came to England late and purposely only played one practice round on Wednesday to avoid confronting the wind and the rain. He finally went out around 7:25, hit about 20 balls on the range and a few putts on the practice green.

"Well, I thought I was warming up more standing inside in the warm than hitting balls outside," Goosen said with a smile. " I was definitely warming up a lot more inside than outside."

Anything that works, and Thursday Goosen's approach paid dividends.

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