With 63, Oosthuizen shows shades of Open victory
NORTON, Mass. – It wasn’t the back-to-back birdies he’d just converted that gave Rory McIlroy reason to grin when he got to the tee at the par-4 12th hole late Sunday afternoon. No, it was something different that had turned his demeanor for the better.
“I was delighted when I got the honor back,” said the young Northern Irishman, smiling.
Yes, in Sunday's third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, just wrestling away tee honors was something of an accomplishment, for McIlroy was paired not so much with another mortal competitor, but with a 5-foot-10-inch South African birdie train.
Louis Oosthuizen is a diminutive man with a silky, perfect golf swing who can pack quite a punch and go low. He has an uncanny ability to separate from others that would make an All-Pro NFL receiver jealous, as Oosthuizen showed two summers ago at venerable St. Andrews, where he blitzed a world-class field by seven shots. On Sunday, he went on a birdie run so impressive – a record-setting seven consecutive – that he appeared poised to do much the same.
Trailing McIlroy by a couple of shots when the two friends walked to the fourth tee on Sunday at TPC Boston, Oosthuizen would lead by six shortly after they’d made the turn. It was a stunning turnaround. His 7-under 29 did more than rewrite the 10-year-old record books at DBC – it appeared to genuinely stagger McIlroy, who was 1 under and just trying to cling to some relevancy.
“He’s very explosive, and he didn’t really put a foot wrong today,” said McIlroy, who kept telling himself to stay patient, and that second place wouldn't be bad in the bigger FedEx Cup playoff picture.
That's the kind of thinking that Oosthuizen's play was putting into others' heads. Oosthuizen started his spectacular run at the short par-4 fourth, where he’d made deuce a day earlier. Seven feet. Birdie. Two 20-footers on the next two holes – count 'em. At the par-5 seventh, an approach to 5 feet. Birdie. And one hole later, an unconscious 40-footer for birdie at 8 … bam! Right to the bottom. The round quickly morphed into something that could be ridiculously low.
“After I made the putt at 8, I felt like I can’t miss anything,” said Oosthuizen, 29, who is seeking his first victory in the U.S. “I made everything. You get those days where you just look at a putt and you hole it. That was my first nine holes.”
Well, 10 holes to be exact. It was there that he hit an approach to a foot to get to 8 under for his round. Visions of 59 were dancing around in his head, though his putter would cool off down the homestretch, when he managed just two birdies to offset a lone bogey at 17, his first missed green in regulation in 19 holes and more than 24 hours. He’d settle for 8-under 63.
“You know, all in all, started the day one back, leading by three, I’m very happy,” Oosthuizen said. Pausing, then flashing a grin, he added, “It’s a bit strange saying that Sunday afternoon … you’d think you’d be holding the trophy right here now.”
To McIlroy’s credit, he fought back to cut the deficit to three shots, and that’s where the two will begin on a Labor Day Monday when once again they go out in the final group. Oosthuizen (66-65-63) stands at 19-under 194, with McIlroy, who shot 67 on the heels of two 65s, three back.
The penultimate group will feature Dustin Johnson, trying to catch the eye of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, and Tiger Woods. Johnson shot 65, and Woods 68.
“Not bad,” said Deutsche Bank Americas CEO Seth Waugh, sizing up the final day’s last two groups. “. . . There’s a lot of great stories going on. Pinch me.”
Monday’s final round will bring with it several good storylines: The battle for the DBC trophy and playoff positioning at the midway point of the FedEx Cup postseason; the jockeying of players trying to work into the top 70 to advance to Round 3 at Crooked Stick in Indiana next week; and 18 final holes for players to impress Love in an attempt to garner one of his four captain’s picks. Among those potentially in the running are Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker and even Nick Watney, last week’s winner of the Barclays. All made the cut outside Boston.
“Ultimately, he's got to pick four guys that he believes gives the team the best chance to win,” Furyk said. “He's going to get criticized or put up on a pedestal depending on how those guys go and play, if that makes sense. If the 12 guys go out and win, he's going to be a hero. If those 12 guys go out and lay an egg, he's going to be criticized. Unfortunately that's all part of being the Ryder Cup captain.”
As for Oosthuizen, who started the week 21st in the playoff standings and could move to No. 1 with a victory, he has other things on his mind. As in, how will he follow up such a fiery third round?
Even if he had shot 59, it wouldn’t have been a personal best. He once shot 15-under 57 at Mossel Bay, his home course in South Africa.
“I think I’d just turned pro,” he said, “and I played with my buddies. We played a skins game that day – and they still regret it.”