ST. ANDREWS-- Any doubts that Louis Oosthuizen had the game and the temperament to cope with the pressure of leading a major championship on the last day, having missed the cut in five previous attempts, were soon dispelled over the Old Course when he played with the confidence of a seasoned campaigner to win the game’s oldest and most coveted title by seven shots.
After eight holes his lead was trimmed to three shots, but he responded instantly with an eagle at the ninth and Paul Casey’s spirited challenge fell apart with a wayward tee shot at the 12th that lead to a triple-bogey seven and allowed Oosthuizen the luxury of playing the final six holes with an eight-shot cushion that he never looked like losing until a dropped shot at the 17th hole.
The chase for second place became a battle between old friends and adversaries Casey and Lee Westwood and it was Westwood who took the honours at nine under when Casey three-putted the last after driving into the Valley of Sin. It was Westwood’s second successive near miss following his third place last year when he was one shot short of the play-off between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson at Turnberry.
Rory McIlroy, who set an Open record with his opening round of 63, recovered strongly from a wind-blown 80 on the second day to finish 69-68 for an eight-under total and a share of fourth place with Henrik Stenson of Sweden.
One of the biggest cheers of the day rang out around the 18th green when 18-year-old Amateur Champion Jin Jeong completed his first Open Championship with an eagle putt after driving the green and finished at four under par. He followed young Italian Matteo Manassero in completing the double of Amateur title-holder and and winner of the Silver Medal as leading non-pro in The Open.
As he stepped from the last green as the newly crowned Open champion Oosthuizen said: “My biggest goal this week was to keep calm. It became very difficult after the 12th hole on the back nine with an eight shot lead, but I was glad of those eight shots at the 17th. I cramped up a bit. But that was unbelievable.”
Later he added: “I felt I needed something to get me going and the eagle was the thing that did it. During the final round I made good putts when I had to and rarely missed anything under six feet, but it was much tighter than it looked until that 12th hole.”
The last hole still held its dramas. “Coming down the 18th I didn’t want to hit driver and thought about the three-iron, but that might have bounced on the road and finished anywhere. It was amazing when I saw the ball hit the fairway.”
Of the great breakthrough in his career he said: “Everyone told me it was just a matter of me believing in myself and my first win on the European Tour really helped. But to win an Open is special. To win at St Andrews is extra special.”
The new champion secured his first win on the European Tour earlier this year in the Open de Andalucia, but had won four times in his home country, including a successful defence of the South African PGA title in 2008. He had failed to make the cut in three previous Open appearances at Troon, Hoylake and Turnberry, and had also failed to progress in the US Open and Masters.
The 27-year-old lives on a farm next door to his parents in Gouritz River, South Africa, and also has a home in Manchester.
He was a graduate of the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation which gives financial assistance, playing, practice and coaching help to young players and he was the first from that programme to play in the Masters. He represented South Africa at boys, youths and senior levels and he is now putting something back into the game by starting his own junior golf academy.