The South African was four shots ahead of Casey when the pair hit their first shots on the 12th hole at St. Andrews in Scotland yesterday. The Englishman triple-bogeyed and Oosthuizen had a birdie to push the lead to eight shots.
“It was actually very tight until the 12th,” Oosthuizen told reporters after winning the tournament by seven strokes. “It could easily be I make bogey and Paul makes birdie, and it’s a one-shot game. All of a sudden, it was mine to throw away.”
Oosthuizen led from the second round, holding off world No. 3 Lee Westwood, who birdied the 18th hole to finish second. Tiger Woods, who won the past two times the British Open was held at St. Andrews, was tied for 23rd at 3-under par. Oosthuizen shot a 16-under-par 272 and was one shot off tying the modern record of an eight-stroke victory in the event.
Going into the tournament, the 27-year-old had just one victory on the European Tour and had missed the cut in seven of his eight major appearances. Journalists and fans struggled to pronounce his last name (WUHST-hi-zen), and just as many questions were posed about his “Shrek” nickname as his play.
“I’m proud of the way I held my nerves,” the 5-foot-10 player told reporters. “I knew that I could throw a big lead away. It was still nerve-wracking, but it’s just great.”
Gary Player’s Call
Oosthuizen is the fourth South African to win the Open, joining Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Ernie Els. He was on the South African team that won the World Junior Team Championships in 2000. While his father and brother both played tennis in regional tournaments in his home country, he picked up golf.
His given name is Lodewicus Theodorus, after his grandfather, but almost everyone calls him Louis. Except for his friends, who’ve nicknamed him “Shrek” because, the movie buff says, the gap in his front teeth makes him look like the animated film character.
He grew up on a rural sheep farm in Heidelburg, and built a driving range to practice on, according to Hannes van Niekerk, head of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation, which provide support to Oosthuizen in the early 2000s.
“From day one, he had his own techniques,” van Niekerk said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think there was any coaching involved for many, many years. Because he was so far off in the bush, he was on his own for most of the time. Louis worked out that swing very early on.”
Oosthuizen received a telephone call from Player yesterday morning. He knew Casey -- who shot 3-over-par 75 to finish in a tie for third place with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson of Sweden -- would get a lot of support from British fans, so Player counseled him in his first language, Afrikaans, to keep his head.
“He was saying just to stay calm out there, have a lot of fun,” Oosthuizen said. “He told me the story when he played against Arnold Palmer when he won his first Masters. He said, ‘They wanted to throw stuff at me.’”
It didn’t get that bad for the South African, who was greeted with applause by the crowd on the 18th.
Oosthuizen joined Els’s golf foundation at the age of 17. Els, a three-time champion, said he’d recognized the player’s ability early on. In March, Oosthuizen started his own golf academy for local students at his home course in Mossel Bay, which is on the south coast between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
“It would be difficult to find anybody in the world who is more proud of him right now,” Els said in comments distributed by tournament officials. “I thought long before anybody had heard of him that he was going to be an exceptional player.”
Oosthuizen’s 65 on the first day was overshadowed by McIlroy, who tied the record lowest round in a major with 63.
The South African took advantage of calm conditions on the morning of the second day to score a 67 and take the lead for good. Gusting winds in the afternoon sent scores soaring, with McIlroy shooting 80.
Even without his errors at the 12th, Casey said it would have been tough to beat Oosthuizen.
“That was an unbelievable performance,” Casey told reporters. “He was very calm, played wonderful golf.”
As he prepared to play the last hole, Oosthuizen said he wasn’t taking anything for granted and knew he had to stay focused.
“That’s one thing I learned in this game, you’re certain when the last putt goes in,” he said. “I didn’t want to make six or seven.
“When my tee shot was down on 18, I felt that was it,” he said. “I’m definitely not going to 10putt around there. I just hit the first putt way to the right and then didn’t really matter from there, and I was too excited.”
After hitting the green with his drive, Oosthuizen allowed his mind to drift. He said he walked up the 18th fairway thinking of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who celebrated his 92nd birthday yesterday.
“It felt a bit special out there,” he said. “What he’s done for our country is unbelievable, so happy birthday to him once again.”