ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Hardly
anyone knew Louis Oosthuizen, much less how to pronounce his name. Not
many will forget the performance he delivered at the home of golf to
capture the British Open.
A week after the World Cup ended,
South Africa had more reason to celebrate Sunday, this from a most
unlikely source. Oosthuizen, a 27-year-old who had only made one cut in
his previous eight majors, blew away the field at St. Andrews for a
victory that looked as easy as when Tiger Woods first won here a decade
Oosthuizen (WUHST'-hy-zen) made only
two bogeys over the final 35 holes in a strong wind that swept across
the Old Course. He led over the final 48 holes and closed with a
1-under 71 for a seven-shot victory over Lee Westwood of England.
For all the craze about those vuvuzelas, the sweetest sound for Oosthuizen turned out to be the skirl of a bagpipe.
Oosthuizen could not think of a more special venue to capture his first major. He just had no idea it would be this easy.
He never let anyone get within three
shots of him in the final round, and he answered that brief challenge
from Paul Casey by knocking in a 50-foot eagle putt on the par-4 ninth
green to restore his cushion. Casey's hopes ended with a triple bogey
into the gorse three holes later, and Oosthuizen spent the final hour
soaking up an atmosphere unlike any other in golf.
"That eagle on nine, that got me
started," Oosthuizen said. "It was a big change on 12 when Paul made
triple and I made birdie. All of a sudden, it was mine to throw away."
He finished at 16-under 272 and became the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win his first major at St. Andrews.
"Nobody was going to stop him," said
Casey, whose adventures in the gorse sent him to a 75 and a tie for
third with Rory McIlroy (68) and Henrik Stenson (71). "He didn't miss a
shot today. I don't know if he missed one all week. That was four days
of tremendous golf. He didn't flinch today."
No, there was only that gap-tooth
smile that earned him the nickname "Shrek" from his friends. And there
was amazement across his face when he cradled the oldest trophy in
golf, a silver claret jug with his name etched alongside Woods, Jack
Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and the other South African winners — Player,
Bobby Locke and Ernie Els, his mentor.
Without the Ernie Els & Fancourt
Foundation in South Africa, the son of a farmer could not have afforded
the travel required to reach the game's highest level.
Some 45 miles away, Player was
returning from a golf outing and listening to every shot on the radio,
proud as can be. He saw the potential during a practice round they
played at the Masters this year.
Player called Oosthuizen on Sunday morning and gave him a pep talk.
"I told him he's got to realize that
lots of people are hitting bad shots," Player said, not know how few of
those the kid would hit. "And I told them the crowd was naturally going
to show a bias. But I reminded him when I played Arnold Palmer in 1961
at the Masters, only my wife and my dog was pulling for me. I told him
he's got to get in there and be more determined to win."
Oosthuizen was relaxed as could be,
putting his arm around caddie Zack Rasego after hitting off the 18th
tee and walking over the Swilcan Bridge, thousands of fans packed into
the grandstands, along the road and peering out the shop windows.
The timing could not have been
better for a South African to claim a major — that's five majors for
the Springboks since 2001. Not only is the country still buzzing,
Sunday was the 92nd birthday of Nelson Mandela.
"It's a proud moment for us,
especially with the Old Man, winning on his birthday," Rosega said.
"Winning at St. Andrews, it's unbelievable. He deserves what he's just
The 150th anniversary of golf's oldest championship was memorable in so many ways.
It began with McIlroy tying the
major championship record with a 63 in some of the calmest conditions
at the Old Course. It ended with someone other than Woods hoisting the
claret jug in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.
Woods tapped in on the final hole
and removed his cap to salute the gallery, just as he did the last two
Opens at St. Andrews. Only this time, the tournament was still two
hours from finishing. Woods made two double bogeys on his way to a 72
and tied for 23rd.
It was his seventh tournament of the year without a victory, matching the longest drought of his career.
"I'm not going to win all of them,"
Woods said after his worst 72-hole finish in a major in six years.
"I've lost a lot more than I've won."
No way he was going to win this one. Neither was anyone else.
Oosthuizen might have been nervous,
but it didn't show. Charl Schwartzel, his best friend from their junior
golf days in South Africa, ran into him on Saturday and said Oosthuizen
was showing him comedy videos on his phone.
"This was about an hour before he teed off," Schwartzel said.
If anyone showed nerves, it was
Casey. With the warm applause from a British gallery that had not seen
one of its own holding a claret jug in 11 years, he hit wedge to four feet
below the hole at No. 1 to send a message. The birdie putt caught the
right lip, however, and it took until the sixth hole before Casey could
make a birdie.
He wasn't alone. Of the final 10 players to tee off, only Retief Goosen made a birdie on any of the opening five holes.
Oosthuizen plodded along with pars.
"He's doing all the things he needs
to do," said Woods, who has more experience than anyone playing from
ahead in a major. "He's being consistent, putting all the pressure on
Paul to come get him. He doesn't need to go out there and shoot a low
Oosthuizen went 24 consecutive holes
without a bogey until his streak ended on the par-3 eighth hole by
missing a 6-foot par putt. That trimmed his lead to three, and Casey
hit driver onto the par-4 ninth green.
Whatever momentum he had didn't last
long. Oosthuizen also drove the ninth green and holed his 50-foot eagle
putt to restore the lead to four shots, same as when he started. And
this Open effectively ended three holes later.
Casey drove into the gorse bushes
left of the 12th, took a drop back toward the seventh fairway, came up
short of the green and wound up making a triple bogey, dropping him
eight shots behind.
Oosthuizen spent the final hour with a big grin on his face, although he started out that way, too.
The biggest smile came on the 18th
green, with a hug for Rasego, and an embrace with wife Nel-Mare and
7-month-old daughter Jana. It will be years before the child can
appreciate the magnitude of this moment.
"I will say, 'That's the day Daddy makes us the proudest,'" his wife said. "And we'll never forget it."
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