ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen turned the British Open into a procession on Sunday, winning the famed Claret Jug after crushing the world’s best by seven strokes at the home of golf.
The 27-year-old brought the Old Course, and the rest of the field, to its knees with an assured display of ball-striking and control to become the sixth South African major winner, and the first at the Open since Ernie Els in 2002.
“I would like to take this opportunity to say happy birthday to Mr Nelson Mandela back in South Africa,” Oosthuizen said after being presented with the trophy on the 18th green.
It was the former South African president’s 92nd birthday on Sunday.
Oosthuizen, who had missed the cut in all his three previous Opens and was a 200-1 outsider before the tournament started, never looked like being headed after starting the day four clear and he finished with a 71 for a 16-under total of 272.
The 27-year-old sank a short par putt at the 18th, took off his cap to acknowledge the thunderous applause from the crowd that lined the revered fairways, hugged his caddie before embracing his wife Nel-Mare and young daughter Jana.
England’s Lee Westwood emerged from the pack to finish second, a 70 putting him on 279.
Compatriot Paul Casey (75), who began the day as Oosthuizen’s closest challenger, ended in a tie for third spot on eight under alongside Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (71) and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (68).
From the moment Oosthuizen took the lead with a birdie at the seventh hole early on Friday morning, the cynics have been predicting his downfall, but the man nicknamed Shrek not only held on to it but methodically extended it despite all the brickbats the course and weather could hurl in his path.
Born Lodewicus Theodorus and named after his grandfather, to the Claret Jug engraver’s eternal gratitude he is known simply as Louis.
The scene was set for a titanic battle between the final pairing when Casey missed a five-foot putt at the first for a birdie that would have put Oosthuizen under early pressure, and when the Englishman bogeyed the second the South African’s lead was five shots.
Casey cut the deficit to four with a birdie at the sixth but as the chances went begging and no-one from the chasing pack threatened to take the Old Course apart, the title looked like Oosthuizen’s with every passing hole.
The South African even escaped with a par at the fifth after his second found the deep gorse and his recovery scooped up an enormous tuft of undergrowth on his follow-through.
A bogey from Oosthuizen at the eighth cut the deficit to three for the only time in the day but a superb 40-foot putt for an eagle two at the ninth restored the four-shot cushion and the momentum moved inexorably in his favor.
Casey’s chances of mounting a challenge vanished along with his ball in the fairway gorse when his drive at the 12th found an unplayable lie.
He took a penalty drop and went on to card a triple-bogey seven to Oosthuizen’s birdie and all of a sudden the lead was eight and there was only going to be one winner.
“To win an Open championship is special but to win it here at St Andrews is something you dream about,” he said after revealing compatriot and nine-times major winner Gary Player had called with words of encouragement on Sunday morning.
The win, which moved Oosthuizen from 54th to 15th in the world rankings, earned him $1.31 million and made a mockery of the form book.
Not only had he never made an Open cut before but it was only his second professional win outside South Africa while his previous best finish in a major was 73rd in the 2008 U.S. PGA Championship.
World number one Tiger Woods endured another torrid day on the famed links and even his decision to restore the putter he ditched for Thursday’s opening round failed to produce results.
His outward 37, scarred by two double bogeys, saw him sink down the field to finish on three-under in a tie for 23rd.
“You just can’t play and expect to win golf tournaments if you have nine or 10 three-putts in a week,” said Woods who won the last two Opens staged here. “No one can win doing that.”
McIlroy’s second-round 80 looked bad when he finished on Friday, it looked even more costly on Sunday after his closing 68 maintained the 21-year-old’s run of never carding a round in the 70s here.
“I couldn’t help but think about Friday going up the last hole there,” he said. “If I had just sort of stuck in a little bit more on Friday and held it together more, it could have been a different story.”
Westwood was delighted to emerge from a wretched week of putting, where nothing really dropped for him, by going one better than his tie for third at Turnberry last year.
“I keep putting myself into contention in these major championships and keep finishing in the top three. It’s not really to be sniffed at and complained about,” he said.
South Korea’s Jin Jeong made sure of the Silver Medal for leading amateur, signing off in style with an eagle two at the 72nd hole for a share of 14th place.
Editing by Tony Jimenez
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