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Sandwich — For three rounds Louis Oosthuizen executed a game plan, avoiding bogeys and taking advantage of some of the easier holes on the back nine at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, England. The South African held the outright lead in the Open Championship on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
For those same three rounds, Jordan Spieth lurked close behind. The three-time Major champion collected birdies in bunches, displaying the links-course confidence that his followers could recall from his victory in 2017 and near misses in other years.
Each golfer arrived at the Open Championship at different points in their career — one relentlessly trying to break through, the other chipping away at a return to the form of his heyday. Both had high hopes on Sunday, and both were dashed by Collin Morikawa’s unflappable, 15-under 265 victory.
Spieth finished two shots behind Morikawa for second place, leaving “what if” questions about how his third round ended on Saturday. Had he avoided a sloppy bogey-bogey finish, he could have been tied for second, perhaps been chosen for the final pairing on Sunday and eventually tied Morikawa.
Spieth’s second shot at No 17 on Saturday, a failed bump play up the false front of the green, rolled back to his feet. His would-be final putt on No 18, a three-footer, skated right by the cup.
“The finish yesterday was about as upset as I’ve taken a finish of a round to the house,” Spieth said on Sunday. “And I walked in and I said, ‘Is there something that I can break?' I just — I knew that [putt] was so important because I would have been in the final group.”
The memory of those shots weighed heavily on Spieth fans watching him draw close, but not close enough, to Morikawa on Sunday.
“I’m upset because I really felt like I played well enough to win and made a couple really dumb mistakes that possibly, if I had maybe played the week before, wouldn’t have made,” Spieth said. “Like just stepping in and missing my couple-footer on 18 yesterday, not really thinking about it. At the same time I did everything I could in the past few hours to win this championship.”
Oosthuizen has top-three finishes in three straight Major championships but is now one-for-four in converting a 54-hole lead or co-lead at Majors. It marks his second straight failure in that department, after Spain’s Jon Rahm passed him by on the Sunday back nine of June’s US Open at Torrey Pines.
Eleven years after the 2010 Open, where Oosthuizen claimed his only Major, a poetic narrative began to form. Here, near the white cliffs of Dover, Oosthuizen surely would break through again.
But after limiting himself to three bogeys over his first three rounds, Oosthuizen made two in his first seven holes on Sunday to leave the door wide open. He watched as Morikawa, ice in his veins, sauntered right through.
At both the PGA Championship (won by Phil Mickelson) and the US Open, Oosthuizen felt he played well in his final rounds, just not well enough to outdo one of his competitors. Faced during the week with questions about what he’d do differently to close out this Major, he answered that he merely needed to “go one better”.
Yet on Sunday in England, his blow-up hole at No 7 — skulling a shot from one bunker to another and bogeying a gettable par-5 — seemed to represent a step in the wrong direction.
Oosthuizen declined to speak to reporters on Sunday, but did share a tweet thanking the fans and tipping his hat to Morikawa.
“Thank you for the incredible support this week, and congrats to [Morikawa] who played with class and grit today,” Oosthuizen wrote in part. “Well done mate.”
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.