In their haste to put another green jacket over Tiger Woods’ shoulders, pundits ignore the credentials of Louis Oosthuizen in the Masters this week at their peril.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion and runner-up to a miracle shot by Bubba Watson last year at Augusta National, has somehow fallen victim to the age-old stars-and-stripes-tinted vision of commentators ahead of the first major of the year.
While it bears remembering that it’s not often that players are able to repeat wonderful performances from the year before – particularly in majors – it equally bears remembering that in Oosthuizen, we are talking about one of the top 10 players in the world.
And while Woods has been nothing but impressive – his three PGA Tour victories and his return to the number one spot in the Official World Golf Rankings are testimony to that – the vagaries of the course and the pressures of a major are great levellers.
The truth is any one of the top 10 players in the world can get it right on the day, and that’s one reason for thinking Oosthuizen is as likely as Woods to turn up a winner on Sunday.
But there are more reasons, too. One of those is that Oosthuizen’s swing is as good as it gets, as commentators never tire of saying. It repeats under pressure, and, when compared to the well-documented travails of the Woods swing over the last year, it seems more likely to stay in one piece when the nerves start jangling on the back nine on Sunday.
With the quietly-spoken Oosthuizen, you’re not going to get much by the way of self-promotion. But, keen observers will have noticed a subtle shifting of gear at the beginning of this year, as he won the European Tour’s Volvo Golf Champions in Durban in January.
That victory took him to a career-high of fourth in the world, and he began to talk of the possibility of dethroning Rory McIlroy, who was the top player in the world then. He acknowledged it would be a difficult task, but he suggested that he could move within striking range of the top spot by the end of the year.
For Oosthuizen, that’s almost Mohammad Ali talk – the Mossel Bay equivalent of “Ror will go down in four!”
While his scheduling is not common knowledge, there seems to be little doubt that he has taken the step into the kind of territory previously occupied by Woods only – where life revolves around the majors.
And the Masters is the place where the chase for number one can begin. The tournament never owes anyone anything, but Oosthuizen is capable of making it pay for letting Bubba snatch the green jacket from him last year.