Oosthuizen dominates to win unexpected British Open

Louis Oosthuizen walked over the Swilcan Bridge toward a victory that was never in doubt Sunday at St. Andrews, another big moment in sports for South Africa.

Louis Oosthuizen kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews

Louis Oosthuizen kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Louis Oosthuizen walked over the Swilcan Bridge toward a victory that was never in doubt Sunday at St. Andrews, another big moment in sports for South Africa.

This celebration, though, carried a different tune.

The drone of vuvuzelas, all the rage at the World Cup, was replaced by the skirl of bagpipes coming from behind the Royal & Ancient clubhouse. For the 27-year-old South African, the sound could not have been sweeter.

With a performance that rivalled the dominance of Tiger Woods at the home of golf 10 years ago, Oosthuizen led over the final 48 holes and blew away the field by seven shots to capture the British Open.

“To win an Open championship is special,” Oosthuizen said. “But to win it at St. Andrews . . . it’s something you dream about.”

The timing could not have been better — one week after South Africa concluded a wildly popular World Cup, and the day Nelson Mandela celebrated his 92nd birthday.

“It felt a bit special, really,” he said. “When I walked down 18, I was thinking about his birthday.”

By then, the hard work was done. Oosthuizen (pronounced WUHST’-hy-zen) made only two bogeys over the final 35 holes in a strong wind that swept across the Old Course. He closed with a 1-under 71 for a seven-shot victory over Lee Westwood, who was never in the game.

The only challenge came from Paul Casey, who got within three shots after the eighth hole, then drove the green on the par-4 ninth. Oosthuizen answered by hitting driver onto the green and knocking in a 50-foot eagle putt to restore his cushion.

Three holes later, Casey hit into a gorse bush and made triple bogey, while Oosthuizen holed an 18-foot birdie putt.

Oosthuizen spent the final hour soaking up an atmosphere unlike any other in golf with his caddie, Zack Rasego. He finished at 16-under 272 and became the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win his first major at St. Andrews.

Just as Lema did when he won, Oosthuizen ordered bottles of champagne for the press.

Never mind that everyone struggled to pronounce his name. All that mattered was the spelling on the bottom of that claret jug. And yes, the engraver used the abbreviated version — Louis — not his given name of Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen.

With the fifth victory of his career, Oosthuizen moved to No. 15 in the world. And as a sign of just how global golf has become, it’s the second time this decade that the four major championship trophies reside on four continents.

“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 — Gary 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.

“It was great to have a South African winning it on Mandela Day,” said Dennis Bruyns, the chief executive of the Southern Africa PGA. “And there was a great sense of satisfaction in having a South African caddie with him, too.”

It was the fifth major for the Springboks dating to Retief Goosen winning the U.S. Open in 2001, and the first at the British Open since Els won at Muirfield in 2002, a victory that inspired Oosthuizen.

“Shrek is on the move,” Goosen said. “I knew he had a lot of talent. He grew up in an area (Mossel Bay) that’s very windy, so for him, these conditions are normal. The guy’s got one of the best swings on tour. I think he’ll be around for many years to come.”

Some 80 kilometres 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 knowing how few of those the kid would hit. “And I told him 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 he could be, putting his arm around 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.

“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 done.”

The 150th anniversary of golf’s oldest championship was memorable in so many ways.

It began with Rory McIlroy tying the major championship record with a 63 in some of the calmest conditions at the course. It ended with someone other than Woods hoisting the claret jug in front of the R&A 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 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 round today.”

Oosthuizen went 24 consecutive holes without a bogey until his streak ended on the par-3 eighth hole by missing a six-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 seven-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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