The only reason to root against Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen on Sunday is because we want suspense. Oosthuizen has been impressively steady the first three days, and at 15-under, not only does he have a comfortable four-stroke lead over second (and seven over third), but he is a 68 away from tying Tiger Woods’ British Open scoring record set in 2000 at the Old Course. We are seeing some great golf.
Oosthuizen had no hiccups coming in on Saturday, draining a bomb for birdie on the 16th, making par on the Road Hole, and just missing out on an eagle at the last. He was in a groove, and he’s shown he has the game to finish the deal Sunday.
But he shouldn’t turn on the TV or read anything before he tees off. Because we’re all going to concoct ways for him to lose the lead and make it an interesting finish Sunday.
Last year’s British Open winner Stewart Cink was three strokes back after three rounds. Padraig Harrington was two shots behind in 2008, and trailed by six in 2007. The comparison freshest in our minds is Dustin Johnson at this year’s U.S. Open. After wrestling away the lead on the back nine of the third round at a course he owns, it took Johnson two holes before he made a game-changing triple-bogey at Pebble Beach on Sunday, wiping out his three-stroke lead justlikethat.
Johnson was supposed to be a flat-liner on a course he had mastered. But we just don’t know how players will handle Sunday nerves, pins and roars.
And it not just players searching for their first major. The two unlikeliest names on that Sunday U.S. Open leader board — Graeme McDowell and Gregory Havret — were the only two players whose games resembled anything close to the first three days. Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods all floundered when they had the chance to seize the tournament.
Oosthuizen had that DJ control out there on Saturday to me. And that’s not to put him down. Johnson looked great on Saturday. And he played the first hole steady on Sunday. And he piped it down the middle of the second fairway. You just don’t know how someone is going to handle his first bit of serious adversity or bad luck on Sunday at a major. It’s a different animal.
Johnson made a triple-bogey on the second hole and started out 7-over through seven. He staggered home to an 82. It happens in major championships. Just ask Rory McIlroy this week.
If Oosthuizen crumbles, then yes, it could be a wide open championship. There’s no guarantee Casey will play well, either. In the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, the top three players after three rounds failed to break 80.
But if Oosthuizen puts up a fight, then Casey’s going to need to keep up his hot play on the front nine, and figure out how to get something out of the back. For the week, Casey is 12-under on the front, but 1-over on the back. He was 5-under today before playing even on the back.
And the funny thing about all of this is if something weird happens, Johnson of all people is lurking in seventh place at 6-under.
[AP Photo/Tim Hales]