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Louis the First!
Louis Oosthuizen had no problem in the final round the 139th Open Championship, as some pundits predicted. Sporting a four-stroke lead after 54 holes on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the 27-year-old South African strolled home with a closing 1-under 71 to win by seven strokes over Lee Westwood.
With all under-par rounds of 65, 67, 69 and 71, Oosthuizen finished at 16-under 272. He grabbed the lead on the seventh hole Friday and never relinquished it. His total was the lowest in the British Open since Tiger Woods went 19-under at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
The victory was by far the biggest in the burgeoning career of Oosthuizen, a European Tour regular who bagged his first win earlier this spring in the Open de Andalucia.
"To win the Open Championship is special and to do it at St. Andrews is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," said Oosthuizen after receiving the Claret Jug and being dubbed the "Champion Golfer of the Year" by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
During the trophy presentation he wished a happy 92nd birthday to former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. Oosthuizen also thanked his parents, sheep ranchers back in South Africa, and his wife and child, who greeted him in an emotional embrace on the 18th hole after his meaningless par putt disappeared in the cup.
Playing in the final group with Paul Casey, Oosthuizen made the turn at even-par 36 after posting a bogey, a birdie and the rest pars on the front nine. Casey had two birdies and a bogey to draw within three strokes of the lead.
But on the 12th hole, Casey's chances unraveled when he triple-bogeyed the par-4 after driving into the gorse, while Oosthuizen birdied it, a four-shot swing that drained the championship of further drama. The huge swing on that one hole propelled Oosthuizen to join U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland as the second first-time major winner of the year.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "After the 12th it was very difficult having such a big lead, keeping my focus. I think I cramped up a bit there on the last putt and couldn't get myself to hit the ball."
Casey closed with a disappointing 3-over 75 and tied for third at 8-under 280 with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy (68) and Sweden's Henrik Stenson (71). Were it not for a disastrous 8-over 80 Friday, McIlroy might have been the player being crowned as his other three rounds were a major-tying 63 (Thursday) and a 69 in Round 3.
Casey could have tied Westwood (70) for second, but he missed his birdie try on the par-4 18th.
In accepting the Silver Salver as the runner-up, Westwood posted his 10th top-10 finish - without a victory - in a major championship since 1997. The Englishman finished second behind Phil Mickelson in this year's Masters.
For being in the heat of such a big tournament, Oosthuizen showed preternatural cool throughout it despite a relative dearth of prior successes. He expressed that sensibility Saturday night when asked about how he would approach Sunday's final round with Casey. "It's not every day you play in the final group leading the Open Championship.
"You know, I think by going out there and just enjoying the moment really and just not thinking about everything else is just going to make your day really nice. Yeah, we'll probably have a good time together on the course tomorrow, the two of us."
Oosthuizen, who was helped as a junior player after receiving golf clubs from the Ernie Els Foundation, gets to keep the Claret Jug through 2011 when the British Open is played at Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Kent, England.
He will come to Royal St. Georges with his black caddie Zack Rasego; the two have been together for seven years. If Oosthuizen's performance this week at St. Andrews is any indication, expect to see that pairing often in the years ahead.
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