It was fitting that an Open Championship as special as the 144th at St. Andrews came down to a sudden-death playoff and one important putt at the 18th hole. The oldest major delivered the goods once again and the final round must have captivated any South African with a television set.
During regulation play Louis Oosthuizen, the golden boy of The Old Course, sank clutch putts for par at the 16th and 17th and reached the 18th needing a birdie to tie the lead. And he made it.
“I think I did really well getting in the playoff. I had a good chance for birdie on 15, and making a great putt on 16 and another one on 17. At 18 I sort of felt, just give yourself a good chance, a good putt for birdie, and I made it. I mean, it was a bit of a different walk not having a lead down there, so all of a sudden I needed to make a birdie. But after that I felt really good,” he said.
The 32-year-old closed out 72 holes on the Scottish links in 15-under-par, joining Australia’s Marc Leishman and America’s Zach Johnson in a four-hole showdown at the home of golf, played over the first, second, 17th and 18th holes.
Leishman, who set the clubhouse lead early on, fell away quickly after making a drop at the first extra hole. He failed to overcome the deficit and became something of a spectator over the following three holes.
That left Oosthuizen and Johnson, who both birdied the first without looking concerned, to contend for the title. It was at the second that America’s hopes soared, as Johnson boxed his birdie putt to move one shot ahead.
The road hole 17th has been the undoing of many a championship hope and it looked set to derail Johnson, who overshot the green with his third shot. He had to play a tricky chip from the rough, but flopped it perfectly and sank the putt to match Oosthuizen’s bogey and remain one ahead.
And so it came down the 18th, where Johnson’s approach stopped 12 feet below the cup. Oosthuizen faced the challenge and hit his approach to eight feet, but was unable to nail the birdie putt and surrendered victory to the American, who rose to 12th in the World Ranking.
“I mean, it’s never nice to lose a playoff,” said Oosthuizen. “I’ve had the experience in 2012 at Augusta. I mean, you feel like you’ve got a really good chance of winning. But yeah, I’ll take a lot out of this week.
“This to me was probably one of the most exciting Opens. A lot of guys will take a lot of good out of this, and you know, it’ll be great for golf if this is going to be the way forward.”
Anyone with an inkling of today’s events will know that young sensation Jordan Spieth came close to joining the playoff, but denied himself the chance with a hooked drive at the 18th, which left him with too much work to do. The world number two was left to settle for fourth place alongside Jason Day, ending his dream of winning all four majors this year.
“I don’t know how many guys have done three majors in a year,” said Spieth. “I’m sure there’s only been a few. I know Tiger has done it, and I’m sure Jack has. So that would be the next goal as far as the history goes. Sights set on the PGA Championship, and from here I’ve got a couple weeks off now, and I’m going to go home and reflect on — it won’t hurt too bad,” he said.
Branden Grace proved his readiness for the majors with a final round of 67 that moved him 44 spots up the leaderboard into a share of 20th, where he joined the indomitable Retief Goosen on seven-under-par for the tournament.
But Zach Johnson was the name engravers had to place on the Claret Jug, and no doubt the American deserved to win – he was simply the champion golfer this time around.
“The key, you know, certainly for the week is patience and perseverance, without question, and I think in the playoff in particular, it was truly about just making the best of opportunities, because you know the other two guys are not going to let it slide, specifically Louis; he played tremendous. Both of those guys could be sitting here right now, too.
“I’m just a guy from Iowa that has been blessed with a talent, and this game provides great opportunity. If you had asked me about a green jacket and a Claret Jug 10 years ago I would have said ‘Whose am I trying on, and whose am I touching?’ It takes me back to when I turned professional. You could even go back further than that when I was playing as a youngster. These are the things you dream about. I’m honoured, and it’s still beyond surreal,” he said while smiling at his new silverware.