ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Nobody expected this.
Saturday was the day that Louis Oosthuizen was supposed to live up to his nickname and play like Shrek, succumb to the major championship pressure of the British Open and let the real contenders — stars like Paul Casey and Lee Westwood and maybe even Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — battle it out Sunday in a star-studded, thrill-a-minute finish.
When Oosthuizen nervously three-putted the first green Saturday, knocking his first putt a stunning 10 feet past the cup, it looked like the beginning of his end and the unofficial start of the real Open. “Yeah, that putt showed I was nervous,” Oosthuizen admitted later.
But there was no ogre lurking in Oosthuizen’s game.
No one on the course looked more like an Open champion. His swing was superb. So was his tempo. Can he finish off a pressure-packed round? Well, he sank an ocean liner of a putt on the 16th hole for a huge birdie. It was 50 feet, maybe 60 feet. If he goes on to win this Open, it’ll probably grow to 100 feet when they retell the story 20 years from now.
The Road Hole, which has claimed many victims, didn’t even make him break a sweat. All Oosthuizen did was hit a perfect drive, a perfect second shot and two putt from past the pin for a routine par on a hole where very little is routine.
Then the South African hit the shot that sent the message that he is, indeed, the man to beat Sunday. He played a magnificent tee shot on the 18th that bounced onto the green and curled behind the pin, not unlike the shot Tiger Woods hit there Friday that nearly struck the pin. It was a tee shot Oosthuizen may remember for as long as his remarkable putt at the 16th. If he’d made that 20-foot putt for eagle at the 18th, only two players would’ve been within eight shots of his lead. Instead, Oosthuizen settled for a two-putt birdie, a four-shot edge over Casey and a seven-shot advantage over Martin Kaymer. Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Alejandro Canizares are eight shots back. Only five other players are within ten shots.
It added up to a pretty classy 69 for Oosthuizen, a stunning 15-under-par. And it was a clutch showing Saturday after he got iced. Oosthuizen finished his second round just after noon Friday, then went off in the last group at 4:40 p.m. Saturday; tee times were pushed back because a number of players had to return to the course Saturday morning to complete the second round after darkness stopped play. That was more than 29 hours sitting idle on the lead.
“Yeah, it felt like a week and a half,” Oosthuizen joked.
He tried watching television Sunday morning, but that didn’t help. He saw South Africa lose badly to New Zealand in rugby.
“That was a tough start to the day,” he said.
Oosthuizen put a sweet finish on the day, however, and now, let’s be honest — the Open is his to lose. A four-shot lead isn’t safe but it isn’t bad, either. Of course, Dustin Johnson had a three-shot lead going into the final round at Pebble Beach, and you may recall the 80-some swings that went wrong for him.
Oosthuizen, a smooth-swinging South African whose father is a farmer, looked unflappable. Oosthuizen’s steady performance overshadowed rallies by Casey and Stenson. Casey, a popular Englishman who got strong support from the gallery, shot 31 on the front nine and made all pars on the back when his putts came close but just wouldn’t drop, including a short birdie try at the 18th. Casey’s 67 tied Stenson for the day’s low round. Stenson, a Swede, was sparked by a crazy long birdie putt at the eighth and a hole-out from the rough for eagle at the par-4 13th.
The third-round action continued what has been an entertaining Open Championship, full of surprises. For instance …
Who expected play to be stopped at a British Open when the sun is out? But that’s what happened in the second round when high winds made several greens unplayable.
Who didn’t expect Tiger Woods to be a serious contender Sunday after his opening 67? Instead, Tiger stands 12 shots back, eight shots out of second place.
Who expects tournament awards at a major championship to be doled out after Saturday’s third round? Nobody. So with the element of surprise on my side, here are the Saturday At The Open Awards:
Best charge by a lefthander: Phil Mickelson finally got something going after two dismal rounds and was 4-under-par for the Open through 15 holes and back in contention. He managed four birdies in the first ten holes and was poised to crack the leaderboard.
Biggest charge that became a depth charge: Mickelson again. Poor swings with his 5-iron on the 16th and 17th holes led to a double and a bogey, respectively, and pretty much submarined his chances. He finished at 2-under-par and now needs a miracle round to have any hope. “I’m disappointed because I let a good round slide,” Mickelson said. “Coming in, I putted great and then I made those bad 5-iron swings and it was just … I’m frustrated with myself.”
Biggest senior moment: Last year it was Tom Watson’s thrilling run at Turnberry, at age 59. This week, it was 50-year-old Mark Calcavecchia, the ’89 Open champ. Well, until the third round started. It went south for Calc right away. He started with three straight bogeys, then made a quadruple-bogey 9 at the fifth hole with a mental mistake. He hit his drive into trouble in a fairway bunker, then hit out of there into a patch of gorse. Expecting that ball to be lost, Calc played a provisional ball. When someone indicated Calc’s original ball was in play, the provisional was picked up. As it turned out, it wasn’t Calc’s ball, which meant his provisional was in play but he’d already picked that up, which is another penalty. Even Oosthuizen, his playing partner, said he wasn’t sure what happened, because after he’d hit his third shot, he saw Calc going back to replay a shot. He had no idea Calc made a 9, he said, until a scoring official confirmed it with Calc on the next tee. The lesson here, kids: Never, ever pick up your provisional ball until you identify the original ball yourself or declare it lost. Never. Calc, who began the round in second place, shot 77.
Most impressive amateur: South Korea’s Jin Jeong has the low-amateur medal wrapped up, as the only am to make the cut. He stayed on the leaderboard most of the third round, thanks to an eagle at the fifth hole, but fell back with a pair of late bogeys at 16 and 17. Jeong won the British Amateur, the Tasmanian Open and the Riversdale Cup earlier this year.
Most surprising disappearance that never would have happened in America: Tiger Woods could be 87-over-par, and CBS would still have cameras hanging on his every shot. Not the BBC, which prefers to cover the golf tournament proper. The Beeb dropped Tiger like a hot potato after his second bogey on the front nine but did show some of his finish, like his two-putt from some 120 feet at the 14th (he made his second from 20 feet for birdie), his screw-up at 17 when he made a costly bogey, and his tee shot that reached the 18th green for the second straight day.
Most inventive scorekeeping: Robert Allenby was asked how he played the tough par-4 17th, the infamous Road Hole. “I played it well — three pars,” he said. “That’s like three-under.”
Best example of Ryder Cup sportsmanship: Germany’s Martin Kaymer explained the good showing by European players on the leaderboard (eight out of the top 10 at one point Saturday) by saying that the conditions (including the weather) suit the Euros better than the Americans. “I hope we have bad weather in Wales, to be honest,” he said with a smile.
Best comeback by a guy who fumbled the U.S. Open: Dustin Johnson, who took a three-shot lead into the final round at Pebble Beach and then crumbled to an 83, birdied the final two holes to shoot 69, one of the day’s better rounds, and played his way back into Open contention.
Most stylish double bogey: Miguel Angel Jimenez found himself short of the deep bunker that guards the front of the 17th green. His pitch shot flew long, over the road and off the wall behind the Road Hole. Stymied without a backswing against the wall, the clever Jimenez turned, faced the wall, and hit his ball into it, allowing for the carom. The ball went high in the air and landed on the back of the green, 20 feet from the pin, and Jimenez earned a loud ovation from the impressed gallery. He didn’t make the putt, however, and took a double bogey. But he scored bonus points for creativity.
Most exciting scoreboard moment: After Henrik Stenson holed out from the fairway for an eagle 2 on the 13th hole, the leaderboard posted his score through 13 holes as -8. About a minute later, the leaderboard posted a double eagle for Stenson on the par-5 14th hole, putting him at 11-under. Writers in the media center did a double take but assumed it was a scoring error. The Swede didn’t hole out from the fairway twice in a row without us noticing, did he? Nope. After two minutes, the red 11 came off.
Most dramatic fashion statement: You thought John Daly reached a new low (or is it high?) with his pink, magenta and lime-green paisley slacks on Friday? Saturday, he wore red and orange tiger-stripe pants that looked like suspiciously like pajama bottoms. He shot 39 on the front nine and ended his faint Open chances. Coincidence?
The Speed Racer memorial trophy: Give it to Tom Pernice, who teed off first and played by himself. He finished in 3 hours 20 minutes and could’ve played another 18 before the leaders went off three-and-a-half hours later. He played well, too, shooting a 1-under 71.
Lowest score by a mixed message: Zane Scotland bogeyed three of his last four holes to shoot an even-par 72 and finish at even-par. Scotland, who turned 28 on Saturday, is from England.