British Open witnessed true greatness

British Open witnessed true greatness

Published Jul. 18, 2010 1:00 a.m. ET

Be sure, we’ve borne witness to one of the greatest virtuoso performances in golf history.

And then there are the golf snobs who‘ll snigger, “Louis who?”

They’ll sneer that no one who’s known as Little Shrek could ever really become an immortal, conveniently ignoring that 15 years ago at Stanford there was a skinny Cablinasian golfer who was known as Urkel, after the nerdy television character.

Or they’ll say, unkindly, that Oosthuizen’s merely the next Trevor Immelman, a South African who promised much after winning the Masters but has delivered little since.


Don’t listen.

And even if he turns out to be a flash in the pan — which I don’t think he will be now that he knows what he can do — then so be it.

It wouldn’t diminish at all what 27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen accomplished over these four tempestuous days in the shadows of castle ruins on the Scottish coast.

He won the claret jug by seven shots. He shot 65 in the worst of the conditions in the first round, backed it up with a 67, held his nerve with a Saturday round of 69 and took a four-shot lead into Sunday and extended it to seven.

This was no fluke. This took very large huevos. He didn’t back into a major when those with the lead got the apple stuck in their throats. This was an emerging talent reinforced by innate courage.

If he wasn’t overcome by the knowledge that he’d already won — “When my tee shot was down on 18, I felt that was it, I’m definitely not going to 10-putt,“ he later joked — and stopped caring about the margin of victory, he’d have two-putted the 72nd hole for birdie and won by eight.

And who’s the last guy to have won a British Open at St. Andrews by eight?

This week Louis was Tiger.

And just like we genuflected in Woods’ direction and feted him for winning the British Open by eight, the Masters by 12 and the Pebble Beach U.S. Open by 15, we should tip our hats to Oosthuizen.

To put this stunning victory in perspective, consider that the last time anyone not named Tiger Woods won a major by this large a margin, it was Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill by seven strokes.

That was 30 years ago. The last time anyone not named Woods won a major by more than seven was 45 years ago, and it was the Golden Bear again, taking the Masters by nine.

Nicklaus and Woods. Heady company, to say the least.

“Obviously,” said Lee Westwood, who finished runner-up (again), “he’s got a lot of bottle (courage).”

Oosthuizen‘s compatriot, Retief Goosen, joked that “the Shrek is on the move.”

“I knew he had a lot of talent,” Goosen said. “He grew up in an area that’s very windy, so for him these conditions are normal. The guy’s got one of the best swings on tour. I think he’ll be around for many years to come.”

Paul Casey, who played alongside Oosthuizen in the final group Sunday but faltered with a 75 to fall to a tie for third, said, “Louis was in a different league.”

“That softens my disappointment slightly, because it was a tremendous performance,” the Englishman said. “That was four days of tremendous golf. He didn’t flinch today. No one was going to stop him. He was superb.”

That sort of assessment, in this generation, is usually reserved for Tiger Woods.

But Woods just made up the numbers Sunday.

He switched putters after three days — as the wag Dan Jenkins quipped on Twitter, “another short romance” — and his old faithful responded with merely a below-average performance, which was an improvement.

Perhaps it proves that old golf truism yet again — that it’s the Indian and not the arrow.

He still hasn’t won a major since 2008 and hasn’t won a tournament this year.

“I believe I had like nine three-putts for the week, so consequently I’m pretty far down the board,” he said.

“Pretty much, if I got something going, I would somehow find a way to stop the momentum.”

Woods is always one to look on the bright side, and said he leaves Britain heartened that he’s driving the ball better than he has “in years” while conceding his iron play is “not quite as sharp as I need to have it and my putting is way off.”

“It’s ironic that as soon as I start driving it on a string, I miss everything (on the greens),” he said, sounding the old lament of golfers the world over, that if it’s not one thing, it’s another.

“Maybe I should go back to spraying it all over the lot and make everything?”

He was only joking. I think.

He said he was disappointed at not becoming the first player to win three British Opens at St. Andrews but shrugged that “that’s just the way it goes.”

“I’m not going to win all of them,” he said.

But Woods wasn’t totally ready to raise the white flag. When he was asked how disappointed he felt given that he’d won half his 14 majors on the venues used this year — Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Augusta National — Woods responded that “the good news is I’ve won half of them not on these venues, too.”

But Tiger and his travails are a story for another day. This one belonged to Louis.

I’ll leave you with the wisdom of Nicklaus. If a golfer is to be remembered, the Golden Bear once said, he must win the British Open at St. Andrews.

I, for one, won’t soon forget Louis Oosthuizen.