WHEN Tiger Woods won the 2000 Open Championship at St Andrews by eight shots, hardly an eyebrow was raised in surprise.
It’s what the runaway world number one was expected to do.
However, when Louis Oosthuizen yesterday walked off with the claret jug after winning by seven clear strokes, the whole world of sport looked on in amazement with many asking the question: “Louis Who?”.
In fact, it could have been worse because when he was born in Mossel Bay, South Africa on October 19, 1982 the new champion was christened Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen (pronounced west-hazen).
Prior to this weekend, he was best known for his victory in the low profile Andalucia Masters in Malaga earlier this year and in this country for winning the Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin in 2002.
When he began the championship celebrating 150 years of the Open with rounds of 65 and 67 to open up a five-stroke lead at the halfway stage, few seemed to take a whole lot of notice. Indeed, rarely if ever has a man in such a handsome position been written off as a no-hoper.
Except, of course, by those who knew him best — like his manager Chubby Chandler, coach Pete Cowen and his wife of three years, Nel-Mare, who watched yesterday’s climax clutching their gorgeous little nine month old daughter Jana.
Chandler insisted Oosthuizen possessed what was required to go all the way and was borne out in the most emphatic way.
To win by seven from a whole host of far more recognisable names (runner-up Lee Westwood and the trio who tied for third, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson) and to do so with such an air of calm and assurance, was some achievement.
For 11 holes, Casey looked the likeliest to take advantage should the South African crumble down the straight, but he hooked into the bushes off the 12th tee to run up a triple bogey seven.
From there home, it was like a stroll in the park for Oosthuizen, who maintained South Africa’s outstanding record in the majors over the last ten years during which Ernie Els has also captured the Open and Retief Goosen has taken the US equivalent on a couple of occasions and Trevor Immelman the Masters.
He could even shoot his highest round of the four — 71 on top of 65, 67 and 69 — and see off the rest by eight to help celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday in most fitting fashion and pick up the winner’s prize for €1,011,840.
“It was strange because it actually very tight until the 12th,” he said.
“I make bogey, Paul makes birdie and it’s a one-shot game. And you know, the minute he made that number (seven), the birdie putt meant a lot to me for momentum on the next six holes. My caddie played a big role then, shot for shot, because your mind is going, thinking, what you’re saying, your speech, things like that.
“But, when I got to the ball, I was fine. Even with that big lead, I wanted to take all my time, not do anything will and not put myself under any pressure. When I got to the 17th, I knew the club I had was never going to reach the bunker and I was happy to take 5.”
To give Oosthuizen all due credit, he has performed well under the cosh — even if this was only the second time in nine majors that he had beaten the cut. Earlier this year, he made a goal of playing in his first Masters.
At the time, he was 60th in the world rankings and needed to get into the top 50 with two tournaments to go. He finished second in Morocco and then won in Andalucia and was on his way to Augusta!
It wasn’t just Casey’s triple on 12 that made it easy for the South African. His eagle two at the ninth was also crucial, it got him to the turn in 35 and with his confidence massively boosted.
Oosthuizen is not someone who is adverse to strange occurrences — funny things do happen to him.
He recently exchanged his Mercedes ML for a BMW X5, drove it home and then discovered it was too wide for his garage doors and so had to buy new ones! he had to leave his Andalucian Masters trophy at Malaga Airport because Monarch Airlines deemed it to be a “dangerous object” and refused to accept it as hand luggage.
As for his pursuers on the golf course, Lee Westwood’s close run things in majors continued with his runner-up spot worth €595,200 while Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey, all of whom tied for third, picked up €303,536.
It was McIlroy’s second third place in a major following the 2009 US PGA.
And one final happy note from the new champion: “I didn’t know it was Nelson Mandela’s birthday until I saw it on the internet this morning and I was thinking about it as I walked down the 18th. What he’s done for our country is unbelievable.”
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