Louis Oosthuizen is 18 holes away from ending his anguish of being golf’s nearly man at the majors, especially this year.
It wasn’t as pretty as his record-setting scoring over the first 36 holes, but the 38-year-old South African broke out of a three-way tie with a birdie at 16 to shoot 1-under 69 on Saturday at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England and take a one-stroke lead over Collin Morikawa heading into the final round of the 149th British Open. Oosthuizen has a simple plan as he tries to go for a wire-to-wire victory tomorrow.
“Go one better,” said the runner-up of the last two majors. “You know, finishing second isn’t great, so I will play my heart out tomorrow and see if I can lift the Claret Jug again.”
For the 10th consecutive major round – a run dating to the second round of the PGA Championship in May – Oosthuizen, winner of the Claret Jug in 2010 but since then second in six majors, is among the top three on the leaderboard and setting the pace at 12-under 198.
That's more like it.
After a shaky few holes @Louis57TM fires a dart in to the 16th.
Follow the last few holes here 👉https://t.co/xYY44zAFs3#TheOpen pic.twitter.com/ga8vKZaaog
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 17, 2021
It was another uncharacteristically, lovely summer day on the southeastern English coast – blue skies, a warming sun, and the absence of the Open Championship’s trademark blustering wind – so much so that fans lathered in suntan lotion to enjoy the balmy, dry conditions. The action on the course heated up almost as much as the temperature, but it was less of a birdie-fest as trickier hole locations and a layout firming up and stretched within 10 yards of the maximum length of 7,189 yards proved to be a true linksland test.
“The R&A definitely said there won’t be low scoring today,” Oosthuizen said. “There were some real questionable pins out there.”
Jon Rahm echoed that sentiment, saying, “Those were some of the hardest pin positions I’ve ever seen. You can’t really appreciate it on TV. You have to be so precise.”
Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship in his first attempt in 2020 is attempting to become the first player to win two different majors in his first attempt. He stumbled early with bogeys on two of the first five holes and trailed by four strokes at the turn, so the 24-year-old Morikawa is pleased to be one stroke back and playing in the final group for the second straight day.
“I think the biggest thing I can draw from the PGA is just knowing I can get it done,” he said. “It’s going to be a grueling 18, but I look forward to it. It’s the position you want to be in. As an athlete, golfer, you want to be in this position. I love it.”
Thank you for all the support out there today 👊🏻 The best atmosphere I've ever played in. Loved every minute even though the putter is not my friend this week 😏 hopefully we'll kiss & make up for the last day tomorrow #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/MAYeOUQC9g
— Richard Bland (@blandy73) July 17, 2021
Oosthuizen was caught first by Jordan Spieth and then by Morikawa but he never lost a share of the lead. Oosthuizen skated along with six pars to open his round and then birdied seven and nine to regain a two-stroke lead. But he made bogeys at Nos. 11 and 13 – just his second and third bogeys of the week – to drop into a tie for the lead with Spieth at 11 under.
Oosthuizen made a sloppy par at the reachable par-5 14th, where Morikawa made birdie to make it a three-way tie at the top. One hole later, Oosthuizen was in danger of dropping out of top position, but he salvaged par with a clutch putt. Then, he drilled his tee shot at the par-3 16th to 15 feet and canned the putt to improve to 12 under.
“I had a few loose swings before that on my iron shots and sort of needed that little boost and made a really good swing on 16 and a few good ones coming in,” he said.
Spieth frittered away two strokes as his trusty putter failed him with bogeys at the final two holes – a three-putt bogey at 17 and a missed 3-footer at the last. The 2017 British Open champion is alone in third place at 9-under 201.
This is flipping exciting 🔄 #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/LhGFQZJmuY
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 17, 2021
One stroke further back are Canadian Corey Conners (66) and American Scottie Scheffler (69), who are tied for fourth at 7-under 203. Rahm, the reigning U.S. Open champion, kept his hopes alive for winning back-to-back majors with a 69 and is part of a trio at 6-under 204.
“I’ll have to play a flawless round tomorrow, but never say never,” Rahm said.
Sunday’s final round marks 11 years to the day that Oosthuizen won his lone major and PGA Tour title. If he were to win again, it would be the second-longest gap between major wins, held by Julius Boros at 11 years, 9 days (between the 1952 U.S. Open and 1963 U.S. Open). But should he finish second again, Oosthuizen would suffer the same sad fate as Jack Nicklaus in 1964 and Ernie Els in 2000 in finishing runner-up in three majors in the same season.
“You try not to think of it until you’ve done it,” Oosthuizen said on Friday. On Saturday, he was asked again whether he would think about the silver trophy of which he has a replica back home on his farm in Ocala and said, “You need to believe that you can lift the trophy, as well, and if you think about it beforehand that you might win this championship, I think that’s great, and you have to believe you can do it.”