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Opinion: Another close shave will leave Oosthuizen scratching his head

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Another close shave for Oosthuizen

SA's Louis Oosthuizen after winning the SA Open in December 2018 in Johannesburg
SA’s Louis Oosthuizen after winning the SA Open in December 2018 in Johannesburg. File Picture: Michael Sherman (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – Sunday marked 11 years to the day since Louis Oosthuizen romped to a seven-stroke victory in The Open at St Andrews, and since then he has collected eight top-three finishes in the majors in a career which has been defined by close shaves.

Oosthuizen led after each round of the first three days at The Open at Royal St George’s in Sandwich last week, and went into the final round with a one-stroke lead over American Collin Morikawa. In the end, Oosthuizen finished four behind Morikawa who played incredible golf to lift the Claret Jug in his debut in the event.

The 38-year-old Oosthuizen was virtually flawless at the halfway stage having carded rounds of 64 and 65 to move to 11-under.

Those two rounds featured just one bogey, but the weekend would see Oosthuizen’s game drop substantially. Though he carded three birdies in his third round, they were offset by two bogeys for a one-under total.

In the final round, by the time he carded his second bogey of the day at the par five seventh, Oosthuizen’s chances of winning a second Open title were virtually gone. Though he managed two more birdies coming home, a bogey at the par four 13th meant he did not gain any ground on playing partner Morikawa who was playing superbly.

It was Oosthuizen’s second third place finish in a major, to go with his six runner-up results in the big four events since his victory in the 2010 Open Championship to announce his arrival on the world stage.

His performance over the weekend was far from his best, as his brilliance displayed over the first two days slowly left his game.

The PGA Championship and the US Open in May and June respectively, saw Oosthuizen finish second in both events. At the PGA Championship, Oosthuizen finished two behind American winner Phil Mickelson and at the US Open he ended one behind Spain’s Jon Rahm.

A poor tee shot which found the left hazard on the par four 71st hole of the US Open proved the difference for Oosthuizen. Anywhere right of the hazard and Oosthuizen, five-under with two holes left, and he would have been looking at a decent birdie chance with just a wedge in for his approach. Even from the drop he had to take playing his third, Oosthuizen’s approach was nestled close to the hole and he lipped out for par.

Though he birdied the final hole, it would prove ultimately meaningless for Oosthuizen, much like his R19.4m cheque for finishing second which he would have still achieved had he ended four-under.

In the PGA, Oosthuizen fired a final round one-over 73 to finish tied second, on four-under, two shots behind Mickelson who became the oldest player to even win a major at 50-years-old.

There is a belief that defeats in golf make the victories even sweeter, and while this may be true – there’s no gauging how a close miss affects a player.

Fellow South African Ernie Els lost out by a single shot to Mickelson in the 2004 Masters, when the left-hander claimed his first major.

Els had started badly but rallied to shoot five-under 67 to post eight-under playing two groups ahead of Mickelson. A play-off seemed to be on the cards, until Mickelson holed an 18-footer for the win.

Els at that stage was in the peak of his career in his mid-30s with three majors to his name, and there’s no telling how many more he would have won had he slipped on the Green Jacket that day. He did win again in 2012, at The Open – but that victory just showed how much ability he still had – even when many thought his career as a top player was already over.

That’s why it’s difficult to pinpoint how these performances will affect Oosthuizen over his career, and it may only be in hindsight that he may be able to explain it.

After finishing third on Sunday, Oosthuizen tweeted his thanks to the crowds for their great support and congratulated Morikawa on his win. He is used to doing this, and somehow explaining how his brilliance routinely deserts him when he needs it most.

Even prize money of R9.8m and a move back inside the top-10 of the world golf rankings will mean little for Oosthuizen in his career which has been plagued by unfulfilled potential.

For the ‘same money’, Oosthuizen could be mentioned in the same breath as American legend Tiger Woods – but instead he has to settle for a legendary bank balance.

African News Agency (ANA)