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Louis Oosthuizen, Jigger Inn
After claiming the Claret Jug, Louis Oosthuizen took it to celebrate at St. Andrews' famous Jigger Inn. (Getty Images)

'I had a lot of confidence' in ability to close out victory, says Oosthuizen

Even on Sunday, the gamblers among the gallery weren't putting a lot of money down on Louis Oosthuizen. But he stayed cool and wrapped up the biggest week of his life with a Tiger Woods-like runaway that confirmed his arrival on the game's biggest stage.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Louis Oosthuizen is as low key as that comedian Rodney Dangerfield was brash. But until Sunday, the young South African didn’t get the respect he deserved, either.

Sure, Oosthuizen was taking a five-stroke lead into the final round of the 139th British Open on the Old Course. But there were precious few willing to part with a few pounds in the betting parlors of the historic Auld Grey Toon in expectation of a win.

After all, Oosthuizen had just won his first European Tour event earlier this year. Not to mention, he had only made the cut in one of the eight previous majors he’d played -- even then he finished a distant 73rd -- and only had broken 70 once in any of those venerable championships.

So what did Oosthuizen do Sunday? He not only won the British Open, he turned in a performance that was positively Tiger Woods-ian -- shooting a stress-free 71 that gave him a stirring seven-shot victory.

The margin was second only to the world No. 1’s 2005 victory at St. Andrews and two strokes shy of the largest at the British Open in 140 years. And in recognition of the victory, Oosthuizen moved to No. 15 in the world.

“He’s been unbelievable the whole week,” said Zach Rasego, Oosthuizen’s caddy for the last seven years. “The media didn’t give him a chance at all. But he’s done it before. He won a tournament at home by 14 shots.

“So it’s not like the boy can not play. I understand that this is a big tournament, but people didn’t give him a chance at all.”

Not when Englishman Paul Casey was hot on his heels and world No. 2 Lee Westwood, another wildly popular Brit, was within striking distance if he could only go low. It’s a situation Oosthuizen’s countryman, Gary Player, had faced many times during his World Golf Hall of Fame career.

So Player called Oosthuizen on Sunday morning, speaking first to his wife Nel-Mare and later to the future Open champion in their native Afrikaans. On the legendary South African President Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday, to boot.

“He was saying just to stay calm out there, have a lot of fun, and he said that the crowd was probably going to be on Paul's side,” Oosthuizen remembered. “But then 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.  But he was so focused on beating him in Augusta.”

Just as Oosthuizen was focused on beating anyone and everyone at the Old Course on Sunday.

Even so, there was a time on Sunday when the man his friends call “Shrek” -- yes, after the friendly animated green giant -- might have folded. A time when those pundits’ dire predictions were beginning to ring true.

But after Oosthuizen bogeyed the eighth hole and saw his lead shrink to just three, he came back like a champion -- driving the green at No. 9 and rolling in a 40-foot eagle that he was just hoping to two-putt to keep pace with Casey. Rasego wasn’t surprised.

“He made crucial putts and that really got him going,” the caddy said. “Like the putt that he made at 9 today after that dropped shot -- it showed character.”

Oosthuizen all but wrapped his hands around the handle of the Claret Jug with a birdie at the 12th hole. But he had a little bit of help in hoisting the storied trophy from Casey, who hit his tee shot there into a gorse bush and went on to make a humbling triple bogey.

Therein lies the answer to one reporter’s cheeky question -- When did you know it was your day and you weren't going to choke?

“I felt it was very tight,” Oosthuizen said, humoring the scribe after telling him that using the C-word wasn’t very nice. “Three shots was nothing playing the back nine. But the minute Paul hit it in the bush on 12 and making that 7 and me making that putt for birdie was a huge thing.

“You know, at that stage I had a lot of confidence in the holes that were coming up. … The toughest challenge then was 17, and I had eight shots leading 17.  … When my tee shot was down on 18, I felt that was it.

“I'm definitely not going to 10-putt around there.”

Oosthuizen is a product of the Ernie Els Foundation and he gave tribute to his mentor, who won the 2002 British Open, in his acceptance speech. Rasego said the eight holes the two played in gale-force winds last Sunday helped prepare Oosthuizen for the challenge ahead. Els, for his part, was simply struck by his protégé’s demeanor.

“I played a practice round with him last Sunday and, typically for him, he didn’t give himself a chance,” Els said. “He is a quiet and unassuming guy, but he has shown everyone what a great champion he is.”

Even the men he beat couldn’t be too disappointed. Oosthuizen’s performance was so dominating that their own failings on Sunday didn’t seem as pronounced as if the margin had been closer. He ended up beating Westwood by seven and Casey, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson by eight.

“I didn't say anything to him until he had actually holed out on 18, and then I just told him what I thought of that performance,” said Casey, who acknowledged Oosthuizen was in a “different league” this week.

“That was four days of tremendous golf. He didn't flinch today. His rhythm looked superb, he drove the ball beautifully, he was very calm. I've played with him many times, but that was a world class performance.” 

As Oosthuizen teed off on the Road Hole as the shadows began to settle Sunday evening a lone bagpiper could be heard playing in the distance. But by the time he walked, tipping his cap, down the 18th fairway, though, you might as well have cued the vuvuzelas.

“I think he’ll be around for many years to come,” Retief Goosen said. 

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