Louis Oosthuizen knows what it’s like to hit every shot right where he’s aiming and to stand over every putt believing it will go in. He once shot a 57 on his home course at Mossel Bay in South Africa, a number he wears on the left sleeve of his shirt.
For about two hours Sunday in the Deutsche Bank Championship, that’s how it felt.
Oosthuizen ran off seven straight birdies, a streak that began after he nearly three-putted from 5 feet. He shot 29 on the front nine of the TPC Boston. He didn’t miss a green until the 17th hole. That’s all it took to race by PGA champion Rory McIlroy, leave Tiger Woods behind and seize control going into the Labor Day finish.
Oosthuizen had an 8-under 63, establishing tournament records for consecutive birdies, low front nine and a 54-hole score of 19-under 194.
”Probably the start anyone would dream of on that front nine,” Oosthuizen said. ”I made everything, so you get those days where you just look at a putt and you hole it. That was my first nine holes.”
The back nine wasn’t bad, and it included one brief scare when he felt a twinge in his back when he went after a 9-iron on the 16th. The ache was gone on the 18th, and he rolled in one last birdie to keep McIlroy from getting even closer.
McIlroy, trying to match Woods with his third PGA Tour win this year, did well just to stay in range.
”You think going out with a one-shot lead and shooting 67 that you … might still be in the lead going into the last day,” McIlroy said. ”But Louis put on a display out there for a few holes, reeling off seven birdies in a row. It was great to watch. Louis is the sort of player that can do that. He’s very explosive and he didn’t really put a foot wrong today. Very happy that I’m still in touching distance going into tomorrow.”
Combine one of the sweetest swings in golf with a putting stroke that was just as pure, and that’s what Oosthuizen is capable of doing. Remember, he won the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010 by seven shots.
Woods again didn’t make as many putts as he thought he could, and even a short birdie on the 16th left him nervous until it curled in. He still managed a 68 and was six shots behind, along with Dustin Johnson, who kept alive his hopes of being picked for the Ryder Cup with a 65.
Oosthuizen’s birdie streak featured four putts of at least 20 feet, including a 40-footer at No. 8. It reached a point that on a 20-foot birdie on the 11th for his eighth in a row, he was shocked when it didn’t fall.
”Every putt had perfect speed,” said Oosthuizen, who made four putts of at least 20 feet during his streak of birdies. ”I told Rory, `Sorry, but you’ve got to take it when you can.”’
The exchange they had on the 11th hole indicated what kind of performance this was.
Oosthuizen covered the flag on one of the toughest par 3s at the TPC Boston, though the ball settled 20 feet behind the cup and he narrowly missed. McIlroy followed with a beautiful swing of his own, a towering shot that drew gently and stopped 6 feet behind the cup for birdie.
McIlroy waited at the back of the green for Oosthuizen to tap in for par, held out his arm and clinched his fist and said to him, ”I’ve got the honors.” They laughed, exchanged a high-five and McIlroy told him as they headed to the 12th tee, ”I feel like I’ve got a chance.”
Woods was never in the picture, though he is not out of the hunt.
He got off to a slow start, not picking up a birdie until the fifth hole, but came on late with back-to-back birdies to stay in the game. He’ll play the final round with Johnson, who twice made bogey with a 9-iron in hand and still had eight birdies on the day.
Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number, also had a 63 and while he won’t be a factor at 13 shots behind, Bradley and Oosthuizen showed that it can be done. Six years ago, Woods shot 63 in the final round to beat Vijay Singh.
”I’m going to have to put together one of those rounds,” Woods said. ”It won’t surprise me if somebody shoots 8- or 9-under par tomorrow because of where the pin locations are. Somebody is going to go out there and do it. It may be early, it may be late, who knows? But hopefully, I’m one of those guys.”
Bryce Molder, who is No. 93 in the FedEx Cup, had a 68 and was tied for fifth with Ryan Moore (70), eight shots behind. The position on the leaderboard is more significant to Molder than how many shots he is behind, for only the top 70 in the FedEx Cup advance to Indianapolis next week for the third playoff event.
Even so, it was hard not to ignore the separation from Oosthuizen.
”I never saw what he did. I just remember looking up and going, `Wait a minute. I’m like eight or 10 back.’ I thought I’m playing pretty well,” Molder said.
He was, and so where other players. Oosthuizen was in a class by himself, especially considering he was in the last group after the sun had baked the course most of the day until clouds and a light rain arrived for the final few holes.
Brandt Snedeker, also trying to get the attention of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, had a 30 on the back nine and finished with an eagle for a 65, putting him in a tie for second. Snedeker was the runner-up last week at The Barclays. Love will announce his four picks Tuesday morning in New York.
”I’m pleased,” Snedeker said. ”The only thing missing is a win. I think Davis wants me to go out there and try to win. I came close last week, a little frustrated with the way I finished last week, but this week I’ve still got a chance. This is kind of where I make my hay, when I’m out of it.”
He didn’t imagine being 10 shots behind.
Oosthuizen thought about a 59 when he his approach into 2 feet on the 10th. He would have needed four birdies over the last eight holes, including a par 5 he could reach in two shots. But he missed four straight birdie putts inside 20 feet, and then took his bogey on the 17th.
Not that he’s going to lose sleep over a 63. In fact, Oosthuizen figures it might be just as well he didn’t break 60. The idea is to win the tournament, and McIlroy figures to make it tough on him Monday.
”It would have been really tough playing tomorrow shooting in the 50s today,” Oosthuizen said. ”So I’m very happy with my 8 under today.”