By TOM LAMARRE
When Tom Watson said goodbye, Louis Oosthuizen said hello.
Watson, a five-time winner of the Open Championship, was playing at St. Andrews for probably the last time when the 27-year-old South African stunned the golf world by claiming the Claret Jug by an amazing seven strokes in the 150th anniversary of the oldest championship on the globe.
“We watch sports to see the kind of performance we saw (from Oosthuizen),” said Watson, who stood in the ESPN television booth as the final round wound down and joined the standing ovation for “the champion golfer of the year” as he walked up the famed 18th hole at the Home of Golf.
Oosthuizen, whose only other professional victory outside of the Sunshine Tour in South Africa came earlier this year in the Open de Andalucia in Malaga, Spain, on the European Tour, blew away the best golfers in the world by shooting 65-67-69-71–272, 16-under par.
He’s been around long enough to know what he did was exceptional.
“To win an Open Championship is special, but to win it here at St. Andrews is just, it’s something you dream about,” said Oosthuizen, who came out of Ernie Els’ junior program in South Africa.
“I’m proud of the way I held my nerves and everything around the back nine, especially when I got to the 14th tee. I knew that I could throw a big lead away. And 17 to me, with that one it was always a driver, didn’t matter what lead I had. But it was still nerve-wracking, but yeah, it’s just great.”
Lee Westwood of England was alone in second place at 67-71-71-70–279, and Paul Casey of England totaled 69-69-67-75–280 to tie for third with Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who finished at 63-80-69-68–280, and Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who wound up at 68-74-67-71–280.
Casey had the best view of Oosthuizen’s performance in the final round, playing alongside in the final twosome.
“I didn’t say anything to him until he had actually holed out on 18, and then I just told him what I thought of that performance,” said Casey, who played at Arizona State and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“That was four days of tremendous golf. He didn’t flinch today. I mean, his rhythm looked superb, he drove the ball beautifully, he was very calm. I’ve played with him many a times, but that was a world-class performance.”
Nick Watney of Davis and Fresno State shot 67-73-71-71–282 and tied for seventh, equaling Sean O’Hair, who came in at 67-72-72-71–282, for the high finish by an American.
Rickie Fowler of Murrieta and Oklahoma State played brilliantly in his first Open, totaling 79-67-71-67–284, and tied for 14th with 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman of Scottsdale, Ariz., who finished at 71-68-75-70–284.
Three-time champion Tiger Woods, trying to win for the third time at St. Andrews, never really had it going after the first round and wound up in a tie for 23rd at 67-73-73- 72–285.
Kevin Na of Rancho Cucamonga tied for 27th at 70-74-70-72–286, Hunter Mahan of Orange and Oklahoma State tied for 37th at 69-76-71-71–287, Ricky Barnes of Stockton and the University of Arizona tied for 44th at 68-71-72-77–288, Phil Mickelson of Rancho Santa Fe and Arizona State tied for 48th 73-71-70-75–289, and Tom Pernice Jr. of Murrieta and UCLA tied for 60th at 72-74-71-74–291.
Mickelson again failed in his bid to wrest the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings from Woods.
Watson said adieu to St. Andrews after shooting 73-75–148 to miss the cut by two strokes, giving the adoring masses a moment to remember when he kissed the iconic Swilcan Bridge while walking up the 18th hole, lingering there to soak it all in one last time.
“I thought of Arnold (Palmer) on the bridge, I thought of Jack (Nicklaus) on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here,” Watson said. “My last Open is not right here, the good Lord willing.
“But this is my last at this grand place.”
Where, tragically, he never won.
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