x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Oosthuizen keeps his composure to win British Open

The South African wins by seven strokes to win his maiden major title, the 150th British Open at St Andrews.

Louis Oosthuizen carded a 16 under-par 272 to clinch the famous Claret Jug.
Louis Oosthuizen carded a 16 under-par 272 to clinch the famous Claret Jug.

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND // Great things were expected of the 150th anniversary British Open at the Home of Golf. Sadly, the latest staging of the most glamorous event never really lived up to the occasion on what proved an anti-climactic final afternoon.

Louis Oosthuizen, an outstanding South African champion, cannot be blamed for that. Leading from early on Friday morning, he was never caught by the high class field in pursuit - and never looked like being threatened. Only fleetingly when Paul Casey, his playing partner, reduced the gap at the top of the leaderboard to three strokes did the galleries look like being treated to a grandstand finish. Oosthuizen's response to his only blemish on the most composed of closing rounds - a bogey at the eighth - was to eagle the next hole and begin his stroll to an emphatic seven-stroke victory.

Oosthuizen was overcome by the emotion of a career-changing moment. "To win this championship is a dream come true but to do it at St Andrews is extra special," he said during the presentation ceremony. He still had the presence of mind, as he clutched the famous Claret Jug, to wish Nelson Mandela, the former president of his native South Africa, a happy 92nd birthday and he thanked all those in his homeland who had helped to steer him on his path to glory, particularly Ernie Els, the three-time major champion, at whose foundation Oosthuizen served his apprenticeship.

Oosthuizen's record at this level - six missed cuts in seven previous majors - suggested that he would not be up to the the test of character that comes with trying to preserve a dominant position. The pressure, according to the experts, would be too much for the previously unheralded 27-year-old but, instead, it proved too much for the cluster of more celebrated players chasing him, all of whom were also looking for their first triumph in one of the big four events.

Casey, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson, all winners of events in Europe and the United States, along with Martin Kaymer, the dual Abu Dhabi champion, all fancied their chances, but all fell well short of what was required. Without Oosthuizen, it would have been a terrific battle with those five separated by only two shots coming down the final stretch, along with Retief Goosen, one of Oosthuizen's South African forerunners in the major championship hall of fame.

Westwood narrowly won that tight consolation contest, thanks to a birdie at the last which took him out of a three-way tie with Casey, Stenson and McIlroy and extended his impressive sequence of results in the majors. After three third-placed finishes and two runners-up spots in the past two years, Westwood, who defied a calf injury to take his place in the field, remains convinced that his big day will arrive.

"Hopefully it's only three weeks away," he said as he set his sights on the US PGA championship which begins on August 12. "I can't do much more than I'm already doing. I'm trying to improve all the time, and I keep sticking myself in contention." Casey was the most disappointed of the three players just behind Westwood, the Englishman having gone backwards after turning for home. "It was a frustrating day," he said. "I got several bad breaks out there. But even if you take those away I still don't think I was good enough to get near Louis. He played great out there."

Casey dropped four shots on the last seven holes to allow Sweden's Stenson to make up an overnight deficit on him and McIlroy to draw level after starting seven shots adrift. McIlroy, who posted the round of the tournament to claim the early lead on Thursday, was left to rue a woeful score of 80 in the wind-affected second round. The Northern Irishman showed great character to follow that with rounds of 69 and 68 and, like Westwood, lives in hope that his maiden major is not too far away.

Another potential star of the future is Jin Jeong, of South Korea, who followed in McIlroy's 2007 footsteps of finishing as leading amateur with a four-under-par score of 284. "I don't think I can ever forget this moment," said Jeong, who completed an outstanding double after winning the Amateur Championship at Muirfield last month. He will delay his move into the professional ranks until after the Masters next April for which he now has an invitation.

wjohnson@thenational.ae