Louis Oosthuizen shot a 69 on Saturday to take a four-shot lead into the final round.
Robert Beck/SI
Friday, December 09, 2011

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — That does it. I like this Louis Oosthuizen so much I'm taking Berlitz classes to learn how to say his name, the Rubik's cube of monikers, which if pronounced the right way makes about as much sense as Brett "Favre."

So it's West-hi-zen? Somebody better tell Lee Oostwood.

Smiling South African Louis Oosthuizen shot a third-round 69 (15-under overall) at the British Open on Saturday to take a four-shot lead over England's Paul Casey (67).

"It's great being up there," Oosthuizen said. "I want to enjoy everything about it."

The leader is seven clear of the next-closest player, Martin Kaymer (68, 8-under), and begging a question that will be answered Sunday: Are you a believer?

"Louis has actually been playing some really good golf this year," said Retief Goosen, also of South Africa, who shot 72 to stay 5-under. "He's probably had a chance to win four or five European Tour events this year, and he just failed in that last round or somebody else shot a great round. He has one of the best swings on tour, and he's a very good wind player — he grew up playing in an area that's very windy."

Doesn't Louis know the rabbit never wins? He makes sure the other guys don't start too fast or slow, bows out and collects a check. Even if he's trying, the pacesetter gets lonely and windblown, his legs go, the peloton reels him in, the big name wins.

Except when the big name doesn't; sometimes the long name wins.

Raise your hand if you saw Oosthuizen getting even this far, if his four Ws on the South African tour and one on the European tour were enough for you to quiet your skepticism and submit to full-blown Oosthuizen-fever.

All day leading up to his 4:40 tee time, he looked like the rabbit. He had a five-shot lead over Mark Calcavecchia (77, 2-under for the tournament), but somewhere out there on the windswept links was a 9 with Oosthuizen's name on it. The guy looked so likely to crack it was all we could do not to call him Louis Lohan.

The wait didn't help. Oosthuizen watched South Africa's rugby team get throttled by New Zealand, an inauspicious omen, and spent some time with his 7-month-old daughter, Jana, and his wife, Nel-Mare. All in all, he said, his time as the leader at the halfway point "felt like a week and a half."

When it was finally time to play, Oosthuizen, admittedly "quite a bit nervous," bogeyed the first hole after blowing his 40-foot birdie putt 10 feet too far and missing the next one. Oven mitts, we thought. Roll the Dustin Johnson video, we thought.

It was Johnson who took a three-stroke lead into the final round at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last month only to go triple, double, bogey on holes 2-4, respectively.

There was a time when that simple bogey might have set off Armageddon. Oosthuizen, a one-time junior tennis player, also used to be a hothead. But four or five years ago, he said, "I got to the stage where I realized it's not helping anything."

This partly explains what happened next, something to remind us why we watch: We were surprised. Oosthuizen flashed that endearing gap-toothed grin — it's his default facial expression, as opposed to Tiger's perma-scowl — and started making pars, five in a row from the second through the sixth holes, including two nice saves.

Then he started making birdies.

Paul Casey, who at 32 is a far more accomplished player than Oosthuizen, who has played in Ryder Cups and won nine times in Europe and once on the PGA Tour, was playing in the group in front, crafting a 5-under 31 on the front to get to 11-under.

This was the point where we had Oosthuizen collapsing, but he kept making those perfectly balanced swings, eventually answering Casey's sonic boomlets with his own.

Casey birdied seven to get to 10-under, Oosthuizen birdied seven right behind him to get to 12. Casey birdied nine to get to 11; Oosthuizen equaled him to go to 13.

Then came the pars again, which at St. Andrews require the longest lag putts in golf, which themselves require touch, which is usually the first thing to go under stress. Oosthuizen made six in a row mid-round, then a double-breaking bomb for birdie on 16.

Casey had just missed a short birdie putt on the hole. Louis led by three. He made a deft up-and-down on 17 and drove the 18th green for his final birdie and a four-shot lead.

No one wanted to doubt Oosthuizen. There were just too many similarities between him and Dustin Johnson, who shot 69 Saturday and is at 6-under, nine behind. They each won a regular tour event early this season, the American Johnson at the AT&T at Pebble Beach, Oosthuizen the Open de Andalucia in March — his first W in Europe.

Johnson's best major going into Pebble was a backdoor T10 at the '09 PGA. Oosthuizen's was a solo 73rd with rounds of 81-77 on the weekend at the '08 PGA.

Johnson's ranking coming into the U.S. Open was 29th. Oosthuizen's is 54th.

He was a charming little story about a man with humble beginnings on a farm in Mossel Bay, who needed help from the Ernie Els junior golf foundation to afford to play the game at all. His Letterman smile, his "Shrek" nickname (for the gap in his teeth; he even had a Shrek headcover), they were good column fodder, but everyone knew, knew for absolute certain, he wouldn't stick around. Maybe it was the name.

The other day someone in the press room put out a flier headlined, "11 things to know about Louis Ooosthuizen," throwing in the superfluous "o" as if the media could be relied on to mispronounce the leader's name but needed help misspelling it.

Here was No. 10: Oosthuizen once shot a 57 at Mossel Bay, 14-under.

Still, when Henrik Stenson holed out for eagle 2 on the 13th hole to get to 8-under Saturday, four off the lead, it didn't take a big leap to conclude, Hey, Henrik Stenson's leading the Open! We mentally erased Oosthuizen before he'd had the chance to erase himself, even though Lucas Glover hadn't won a major when he got to Bethpage, Stewart Cink had already been written off as he stepped onto the first tee at Turnberry, and Graeme McDowell had to flash a whole lot of ID at Pebble Beach. And then there was the time Y.E. Yang played in the final group with Tiger at Hazeltine.

Ernie Els was once a funny name, too, until he won the 1994 U.S. Open.

"It's just a matter of believing in myself," Oosthuizen said.

The rest of us are starting to believe in him already.

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