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And the Winner Is…

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | Aye, laddie. Augusta National is beautiful, and Pebble Beach is spectacular. But there’s nothing in golf like the Old Course when the wind is blowing, the crowds are hanging out the windows along the final hole and the man about to be declared “champion golfer of the year’’ is striding up the 18th fairway to the joyful accompaniment of appreciative cheers.
   Nothing like the history that seems to hide deep in every pot bunker.

   Nothing like the view of the town as the tournament moves toward conclusion.

   Nothing like the Road Hole, where again so many met disaster, or Hell Bunker or the Principal’s Nose, yet another bit of agony filled with sand.

   No matter the winner. In this 139th Open it was the unheralded 27-year-old Lodewicus Theodorus “Call Me Louis or I won’t answer’’ Oosthuizen, who made a joke of what loosely might be labeled competition. The ultimate story is St. Andrews.

    The double greens, the Jigger Inn near the 17th tee, the shops along Golf Place and North Street, the imposing Royal and Ancient Golf Club headquarters, the feeling that maybe Old Tom Morris or Laurie Auchterlonie will come wandering around the next corner.

   When someone asked Tiger Woods, whose Open was as disappointing as Oosthuizen’s was enlightening – Tiger tied for 23rd – where he most would like to play a major championship each year, his answer was succinct.

   “I probably would pick St. Andrews all four times.’’

    Now, surely so would Oosthuizen, who was so unrecognized, despite winning the Masters Par-3 Contest this year – now he has a double attained only by Tom Watson, the Par-3 and The Open in the same year. Still, the woman in the interview tent one day introduced him as “Peter Oosterhuizen.’’

    She got him confused with Peter Oosterhuis, the onetime English golfing great and current American TV announcer. That was after the second round, when ahead of a wind storm that halted play for a bit more than an hour, Oosthuizen basically won the tournament.

    Oosthuizen grabbed the Open and, despite suggestions – or maybe hopes from the doubters – never let go. He shot a ridiculous 65-67-69-71—272, 16-under par, and finished seven shots ahead of second-place Lee Westwood.

   As is tradition, the engraver was working Oosthuizen’s name onto the claret jug the instant the Open finished. Presumably he took care in the spelling. Let’s see, that was two “O’s’’ and one “Z,’’ right?

    Absolutely, Louis’ pals have nicknamed him Shrek, because of the gap in his front teeth, something else he shares with Tom Watson.

    Watson, age 60, the star of the 2009 Open across the country at Turnberry, played his seventh and what will be his final Open at St. Andrews, giving the stone bridge across Swilken Burn a symbolic farewell kiss as he stopped on his passage across.

    What American golf kissed goodbye was its chances. And maybe its future. The game belongs to the rest of the globe.

     Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won the U.S. Open. A South African wins The Open Championship, ahead of an Englishman (Westwood), another Northern Irishman (Rory McIlroy), a Swede (Henrik Stenson), another Englishman (Paul Casey) and another South African (Retief Goosen).

    Hey, two Americans, Sean O’Hair and Nick Watney were among those tied for seventh, and a third, Jeff Overton, shared 11th. Does that make the United States red, white and very blue?

   Nine of the last 12 tournaments recognized as official by the PGA Tour, and The Open Championship is one, have been won by golfers not born in the United States.

   That fact was emphasized stingingly by Westwood when at the British golf writers dinner Tuesday night of The Open he congratulated PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem on Steve Stricker’s victory in the John Deere Classic and added, “Lovely to see an American win on your Tour.’’

   At St. Andrews, it’s “lover-ly,’’ to sound like a lyric from “My Fair Lady,’’ to see anyone win an Open. More than any place, the crowd feels so much a part of the tournament, almost as if the fans are playing as much as shouting.

    A week ago it didn’t know Louis Oosthuizen from, well, Peter Oosterhuis, and then he red, white and blew away Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Stricker and everyone else.

    If there’s going to be an upset in a major, and it’s allowable to make that observation, it might as well be at St. Andrews, which adds a luster to any winner, famous or not.

   “To win an Open championship is special,’’ said Oosthuizen, “but to win it here at St. Andrews is something you dream about.’’

     For South Africa, where Oosthuizen, son of a farmer, learned the game through the Ernie Els Foundation, it has been a great few weeks. It hosted the World Cup to high praise. Then Sunday, on the birthday of former president Nelson Mandela, Oosthuizen wins the Open.

    “I woke up this morning,’’ said Oosthuizen, “and I didn’t know it was (Mandela’s) birthday, but I saw it on the news. When I walked down 18 I was thinking about his birthday.’’

   A present then? “I don’t know,’’ said Oosthuizen, “if he’s a fan of links golf.’’

   He would be if he came to St. Andrews.


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