UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash.—Louis Oosthuizen has gone from the ridiculous (an opening-round 77 in the group that couldn’t shoot straight) to the sublime (back-to-back 66s to put him just three off the lead). Now he has the statisticians running for the record books.
“Being 9 over through 20 holes, it looked like I would have been back in Florida today,” Oosthuizen said after Saturday’s third round, in which he hit nine of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. His 66, the best round of the day by two strokes, would have been even better but for the fact that Oosthuizen took 31 putts and missed a six-foot birdie try on 18.
Still, he set a new U.S. Open record for the lowest middle 36 holes (132), and has gotten all the way back to 1-under par for the tournament.
Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Oosthuizen spent much of Thursday resorting to gallows humor, laughing at their ineptitude as they went a combined 28 over par. Woods shot 81, Fowler 80, Oosthuizen 77. You’ve seen better golf at your member-guest. A USGA employee joked that it had to be the worst showing by a featured threesome in U.S. Open history.
LEADERBOARD: Live Scores Entering Sunday at the U.S. Open
“I played as bad as them that first round,” says Oosthuizen, whose tee shot at the par-3 ninth hole Saturday clanked off the flagstick. (He missed the birdie and settled for par.) “I think we just pulled each other down quite a bit. It’s tough when all three players like that, you don’t really get into it.”
If you’d predicted that one of them would be in contention to win the tournament three days later, they would have laughed even harder. But here’s King Louis, just three behind the leaders. Three shots is nothing.
“If I hit it [Sunday] the way I did today I think I’ve got a pretty good chance of putting a good number out there again,” said Oosthuizen, who next month will return to St. Andrews for the British Open, where he won his only major by seven strokes in 2010. “I gave myself loads of birdie opportunities, which is what you want to try to do around here.”
Well, yes. You try to do that anywhere—unless you’re playing with Woods and Fowler and no one can find the end of the club. Oosthuizen was 12 off the lead after the tragi-comedy that was his threesome Thursday, but the sweet-swinging South African made five birdies and a bogey Saturday to continue his comeback. At 1-under 209 through 54 holes, he’s three behind co-leaders Branden Grace (70), Dustin Johnson (70), Jordan Spieth (71) and Jason Day (68). (Impress your friends: Zack Rasego, who caddied for Oosthuizen at the 2010 British Open, is on Grace’s bag this week.)
The last time a player won the U.S. Open shooting a 77 in the opening round was Sam Parks in 1935. The best comeback by a winner over the final 54 holes in the U.S. Open is Jack Fleck, who trailed by nine strokes in 1955.
Oosthuizen, 32, rarely comes up in discussions about golf’s brightest stars. He is quiet and unassuming, and would just as soon bypass the media room. But he is no one-hit wonder; he’d be halfway to the career grand slam had things played out differently at the 2012 Masters (Bubba Watson).
And while we’re on the subject, if Oosthuizen hadn’t gotten sucked into the vortex of lousy golf that was his threesome Thursday, he’d be running away with this thing. Instead he’s tied for fifth with J.B. Holmes (71), Cameron Smith (69) and Shane Lowry (70), anonymous and under the radar of most everyone but his friendly custom mattress maker.
Yes, it seems that Louis O., in addition to being gaga for tractors and other farm equipment—he has a 150-acre spread back in South Africa—likes to travel with his own mattress. Only it looked like he might have to go without in Tacoma, until he arranged a last-minute deal with Stearns & Foster, which sent a mattress, signed by the woman who made it here in Washington, to Oosthuizen’s hotel room. That’s Louis for you. Everyone else’s TrackMan monitors RPMs. Oosthuizen is more concerned with REMs.
And hey, in case he (or anyone reading this) has any trouble falling asleep tonight, here are some more stats: The highest first-round score by a winner since World War II is 76, by Ben Hogan in 1951 and Fleck in ’55. Since World War I, it’s a 78 by Tommy Armour in 1927, and Walter Hagen in 1919. All-time, it’s Horace Rawlins with a 91 in 1895.
Can you imagine that? Louis O. is poised to one up none other than Ben Hogan at Chambers Bay—if he doesn’t sleep through his tee time.