Open poised to produce another surprising champ

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (AP) - Louis Oosthuizen still remembers getting together with other kids from the Ernie Els Foundation to watch highlights of their hero winning the British Open at Muirfield in 2002.

The shot out of a pot bunker on the 13th. His birdie on the 17th to tie for the lead. The bunker shot on the 18th hole to win the longest sudden-death playoff ever in a British Open.

“We were actually getting goose bumps,” Oosthuizen said. “Just seeing that … you’re always thinking, ‘I hope that happens to me.’”

Hard as it is to imagine _ even to the 27-year-old South African _ it just might.

After opening with a three-putt bogey, Oosthuizen played with remarkable poise on another windswept afternoon at St. Andrews. He never dropped another shot, never stopped smiling, and finished with a drive onto the 18th green for one last birdie and a 3-under 69.

It gave him a four-shot lead over Paul Casey and put him one round away from becoming the first player in 46 years to capture his first major championship at the home of golf.

This, from a player who had only made it to the weekend one time in eight previous majors. From a South African who had never won on the European Tour until four months ago.

“I don’t think anyone was thinking I was going to be up there,” Oosthuizen said. “You’ve heard yourself, no one can actually say my surname, so they don’t even know who I am out there. It’s great being up there. I just want to enjoy everything about it. I loved it out there. It was great fun for me. And hopefully, tomorrow will be the same.”

Gary Player left him a message at his hotel. Els called Saturday morning for support, telling Oosthuizen to enjoy himself on a stage like no other in golf. Eight years after leaving the Els foundation, Oosthuizen still follows his instructions.

Oosthuizen (WUHST-hy-zen) was at 15-under 201. A victory Sunday would make him the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to win his first major at St. Andrews.

“The Open at St. Andrews would be something special,” Oosthuizen said. “It’s one of those things you dream of.”

Everyone kept waiting for him to fold, and the final test in the third round came on his second shot to the 17th green, where the pine was planted perilously behind the Road Hole bunker. With a slightly uphill lie, Oosthuizen couldn’t bounce the ball away from the bunker and onto the green. So he played it safe, riding a 5-iron with right-to-left wind, keeping it between the bunker in front of the green and road behind it. He didn’t mind that it ran through the green and onto the 18th tee, just as Casey was preparing to hit his tee shot.

Casey smiled. Lee Westwood walked over to the ball and acted as if he was going to smash the ball back at Oosthuizen.

The way he’s playing, even that might not have stopped him at St. Andrews.

“I’m loving the fact I’m playing absolutely great golf and I’m four shots behind Louis,” Casey said.

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