Oosthuizen ready to tee it up at Prez Cup after injury

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and the International Team watches a shot during a practice round prior to the start of The Presidents Cup at the Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and the International Team watches a shot during a practice round prior to the start of The Presidents Cup at the Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Presidents Cup - Day 4
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DUBLIN, Ohio – Pardon Louis Oosthuizen if he answers D.

You know, for all the above.

Fact is, it’s tough sometimes to figure out which sore spot has been most problematic – the neck, the back, or the leg. “All three,” said the South African with the sweetest swing in golf. Problem is, he hasn’t been in position to put it to proper use in 2013, his latest idle stretch lasting from the Open Championship in mid-July, when he walked off hurt in the middle of Round 1, until last weekend’s Dunhill Links in Scotland.

How little has Oosthuizen played this year? Let’s put it this way: Steve Stricker has outplayed him, 47 rounds to 42.

Now that’s saying something, given that the man from Wisconsin is virtually semiretired, only coming out to play the big ones and when the urge for another top 10 performance tickles him. Stricker’s long breaks from the game has been by design; Oosthuizen’s has been forced upon him, though he pronounced himself fit enough to tee it up in this week’s Presidents Cup.

“I’m ready,” Oosthuizen said Tuesday afternoon, after a day of practice with his International teammates at Muirfield Village Golf Club. He was left, then, to update the medical chart thusly: The neck is OK, the back “is still not 100 percent, but I can play with it now,” and the leg . . . well, he’d have to say that might be the area of greatest concern.

“The leg was the biggest problem, not being able to finish a round of golf, walking-wise,” Oosthuizen said. Having returned to his native South Africa after the disappointment of his short-lived appearance at the Open Championship, Oosthuizen stayed away from the clubs for weeks, even refrained from doing some of his beloved farm work, and just rested and enjoyed time with his wife and three children.

He started a physical fitness regimen a few weeks ago and then worked his way into a little golf. He played nine holes in his hometown of Mossel Bay. “Then I played 18 the next day. My spirits were good. I even played shots off of the awkward lies.”

He felt OK. But still, “I needed to play Dunhill to see. My biggest fear was the walking. I couldn’t walk at the Open (Championship) with the leg.”

Out in 4-over 40, his first nine holes left a miserable taste in his mouth . . . except that he felt all right. He finished with a 74 at Carnoustie, but improved to 69 at Kingsbarn, then shot 69 at St. Andrews. He missed the 54-hole cut, but there was no doubt in Oozthuizen’s mind.

He was going to tee it up in his first Presidents Cup. No excuses, no fears.

“The health’s not an issue,” he said. “I just have to get the game sharp.”

Funny, but months ago, way back at the start of the 2013 season, none of this seemed possible. Oosthuizen steamrolled to his 10th worldwide win at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa in early January and visions of an exciting year had to be prominent in his mind.

Then came the aches and pains, the scratchy play and the withdrawals. Missed cuts at the Honda and Tampa Bay Championship, then at the Masters. Forced to withdraw despite rounds of 67-70-70 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, it grew more painful when he opened with 75 and withdrew at the U.S. Open. Having tried to compensate for back pain that dates back years to whiplash injury suffered while tubing in South Africa, Oosthuizen was told he had created problems with his hip and mostly his leg.

He did play 72 holes at the Greenbrier Classic, but after missing the cut at the John Deere Classic, Oosthuizen lasted till just the sixth hole at Muirfield before calling it quits. Having won the Claret Jug three summers earlier, Ooosthuizen has a special fondness for that major, so this was the low point of the trail.

“I hated walking off the golf course,” Oosthuizen said.

But if the long stint on the disabled list has convinced Oosthuizen of one thing, it’s that “you need two or three months off for proper care.”

Having had that, he is putting the health issues behind him. Oosthuizen remembers the joy of his Open win at St. Andrews in 2010, but it’s the anguish from 2011 when he was left off of the International team for the Presidents Cup in Australia.

“I played terrible the last four or five months (in 2011),” Oosthuizen said. “Then, after the team was selected, I started playing well. So it was sad not to play.”

But if there was a silver lining to that letdown, it’s this: “It just gave me more and more reason to play well to make it this time. This is a dream come true for me. I think it’s going to be a great week.”

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