Oosthuizen in action in Europe; Casey, Donald headline Canadian Open

December 10, 2011

Louis Oosthuizen, one of agent Chubby Chandler's lesser-known clients until last weekend, can suddenly write his own ticket after winning the British Open last weekend.

But when Chandler was asked if Oosthuizen might play the PGA Tour, he said in Tuesday's (U.K.) Daily Telegraph, "This is a far stronger tour. Why not play over here?"

These are heady times for the European tour, and for European golfers playing in America, as well.

Lee Westwood spoke at the European golf writers' dinner at St. Andrews last week and, noticing PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in the audience, toasted Steve Stricker's recent victory at the John Deere Classic.

"It's lovely to see an American win on your tour," said Westwood with an impish smile. Touché.

As it has all year, the sun continues to shine on Europe as South Africa's Oosthuizen, golf's new cuddly curiosity (more on that in a bit), headlines the European tour's Nordea Scandinavian Masters at a new host course, Bro Hof Slott, on the outskirts of Stockholm.

What's more galling for Finchem, or should be, anyway, is that two of America's brightest stars, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, each coming off top-20 finishes at St. Andrews, also will play in the Scandinavian Masters.

Meanwhile, Englishmen Paul Casey and Luke Donald, eighth and ninth in the world, respectively, will be the highest ranked players at the PGA Tour's RBC Canadian Open at St. George's Golf and Country Club.

Call it a sort of golfing cultural exchange program.

Ricky Barnes, Tim Clark, Fred Couples, Retief Goosen, Sean O'Hair and Camilo Villegas also will play in Toronto. But until he cools off or commits some unforgivable gaffe like recommending Shrek 3 over Toy Story 3, Oosthuizen is quite suddenly, and maybe not for long, golf's main man.

With his silky, powerful swing and rare humility (he seems to be a pro you could actually talk to without him checking his watch every five minutes) Louis will help any tour he plays. He's a newly minted family man with a guileless gap-toothed grin, blessed with a contentment that goes deeper than his golf scores. With the way things have been going, it's only appropriate that Europe gets him.

It's impossible to think about Oosthuizen embracing his charming wife and daughter at St. Andrews and not be reminded of the photo, taken about 18 months ago, of a smiling Tiger Woods with wife Elin, their two kids, and their two dogs, one licking Tiger's face. You've seen the picture.

Woods was favored to win his third St. Andrews Open, but Oosthuizen stole the show, all of which makes you stop and think about which player you'd rather watch.

The TV ratings, of course, always favor Woods, but one wonders if that's simply force of habit in the way it was force of habit for bookies to install him as the Open favorite.

Oosthuizen smiles a lot, even when he taps in for par on a par-5. He bought champagne for the media Sunday.

Woods scowls a lot, either out of ferocity or disgust, and no longer bothers to hide his disdain for the media, and vice-versa. The ever-worsening cold war continued when Woods was questioned on the BBC on Sunday.

Interviewer: "Tiger, how would you assess your week?"

TW: "Well, I didn't win." (Wan smile, awkward silence.)

Like Tiger's tired self-assessment, Oosthuizen's victory was a snooze, but three of the previous four St. Andrews Opens had also been blowouts, and the likeable former farm kid can't help it if no one else could avoid the gorse bushes.

It's in the game's interest that he ends up validating the victory with another strong performance, and soon, because absent any consistency from Phil Mickelson, and with Woods searching, golf is desperate for a player, any player, with widespread appeal and serious game.

It just so happens that the most likely candidates for the job are mostly European, playing in Europe, or both.

In addition to Oosthuizen, 27, Rory McIlroy, 21, and Germany's Martin Kaymer, 25, are figuring out the majors.

Casey is back from a rib injury that wrecked his 2009, Justin Rose has enjoyed a breakthrough 2010 with two Ws on the PGA Tour, and unless he gives up golf for a career in comedy, Westwood is bound to win a major.

Two others have looked almost bulletproof for one-week stretches: Ian Poulter at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and Graeme McDowell at the U.S. Open.

Asked last week how a Great Britain & Ireland team would do against America in the Ryder Cup, Rose admitted that for the first time in a while it would be close. (Although one could argue it would be a GB & I blowout.)

America's most extravagantly talented young players are Fowler, who bounced back from an opening 79 with a couple of 67s at St. Andrews; Johnson; and Anthony Kim, an RBC golfing ambassador who had hoped to return from a thumb injury in time for Canada.

With Kim still on the IR, none of the three will play on their home tour this week.

• In addition to the well-attended Scandinavian Masters, Europe gets another high-profile event in the British Senior Open at Carnoustie. Loren Roberts, former Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman (4-under at St. Andrews) and future Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin lead the American charge.

Given the always-fragile state of his back, senior savior Couples can hardly be blamed for opting out of the long, trans-Atlantic flight in favor of playing in Canada. He, O'Hair and Mike Weir will make up the glamour threesome.

• In Evian-les-Bains, France, Ai Miyazato, who reclaims the No. 1 ranking this week, will defend her title at the Evian Masters — the only event in golf where "water hazard" means $4 a bottle.

The strong field also includes U.S. Women's Open champion Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel, Jiyai Shin, Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie.

All of which means that among the major tours, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational, at Ohio State's Scarlet course in Columbus, will get the U.S. to itself.

• Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey leads the Nationwide money list with $306,307 and two victories so far in 2010.

A third W would immediately elevate Gainey to the PGA Tour, giving him only the 10th "Battlefield Promotion" since it went into effect in 1997. Finishing 2010 No. 1 on the money list would get him into the 2011 Players Championship.