James Lawton: Champion discovers new belief to rewrite his modest portfolio

Whatever Oosthuizen lacks in flamboyance, he makes up for with his fighting qualities
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The Independent Online

It was no disservice to Louis Oosthuizen here last night when you looked at him in a certain, slightly disbelieving way, and then thought of some of the more flamboyant Open champions.

He had, after all, never presented himself as the new Nicklaus or Ballesteros, and still less the earth-moving Tiger Woods. Indeed, had he been any less pretentious these last few days he might have been shucking oysters in a local restaurant.

The point, of course, is that there are various ways of measuring champions and however you do it in this case there is a bottom line of absolute splendour.

It deals with the quality that will always separate the winners and the losers, wherever they come from and however heavy, or not, their reputations. It is about pure fighting quality and that supreme ability to say, 'This is my moment, the chance I have always waited for, and no one is going to stop me.'

Paul Casey, the hope of Britain and a man of rather flashier credentials, went through the formalities of a challenge and on the eighth green he had reduced the gap to a mere three strokes. A great wave of anticipation swept around the Old Course. Maybe we would, in the end, have something of a battle.

It was a concept that lasted just four more holes, by which time the 27-year-old South African was leading by precisely the margin which he carried into the most important day of his professional life.

That was eight strokes, shots coaxed out of the wind that had blown at various strength over the previous four days but never at the cost of Oosthuizen's peace of mind. Why, though, when you thought about it, would this player of all players ever be spooked, or even disconcerted, by the sigh and the moaning of the wind. He grew up, the son of an Afrikaans family, on a farm in the Cape country scoured by gales of consistent ferocity and it was clear here soon enough that he felt utterly at home.

Not just with the caprices of the Fife weather and the possibility that at some point someone like Tiger or Phil or the lurking Lee Westwood, who has fought so hard for so long to make a decisive move at the climax of a major tournament, might erupt and send him back to the reality of a minor career, but also his ability to stand up over four days to the competitive pressure which can drag the life out of you in the course of a hole or two on this least predictable of linksland.

When that kind of possibility reared most dangerously on the ninth hole, when Casey had not only narrowed the gap to three shots but also placed himself in a good position to make a second birdie in four holes, Oosthuizen's response was arguably the greatest of all those he made to points of menace over four days of unbroken application.

The South African followed the pattern he had punched out in the three days which left him four shots clear when he walked to the first tee yesterday afternoon. He followed Casey in driving the green at 352 yards, then eagled with a putt of 50 feet. Casey, not for the first time feeling ambushed by a superior force, replied with a birdie. It was the best he could do and showed a certain gameness that might easily have been banished by the first evidence that the man from the Cape had brought with him the frame of mind which had produced three rounds of stunning consistency... 65, 67 and 69.

Not since the Tiger, a strangely irrelevant and, despite the classic red golf shirt, anonymous figure yesterday had dominated this tournament 10 and five years ago, on the first occasion winning by eight strokes and producing one of the most masterful performances in Open history, had we seen here such evidence of a man so in control of every shot, every reflex, every casual reflection.

He was less magisterial, but no less, effective when seen in the early Sunday morning streets of the auld grey town, packing his modest hire car, and helping his wife Nel-Mare and young daughter Jana into their seats. The dark shades he wears on the course gives him a somewhat spuriously racy image.

He is, unquestionably, the yeoman professional who, until this weekend that will always be fabled in stories of sportsmen who reach out for the supreme moments which change their lives for ever, had a record that, understandably enough, left him in awe of such a figure as his compatriot and sponsor, Ernie Els.

Scarcely could there have been a less imposing calling card at the old and greatest of golf tournaments. In seven previous majors he had failed to make the cut six times and on the one occasion he survived for the weekend action, in the US PGA, he finished dead last.

His triumphs happened on another, lesser planet. He won five times on the South African Sunshine Tour and beyond his homeland had just one victory, in the championship of Andalusia.

This was the portfolio of a modest contender indeed but sometimes you are obliged to judge a man not by his past but what he represents now, when the action is on and, maybe, he has found a new dimension, a new belief in the force of his own character.

This has never been more true than in the case of the Open winner who was christened not Louis but Lodewicus Theodorus.

Any man would fight against that fate, seek to prove that he had a substance and possibilities that might one day outstrip the cruelties of the baptismal font. Here, Oosthuizen did that in a way which gathered force with each new day. Before the last one, he said, "I have one belief that I will not put down at any point in the last round. I will not stop believing that I'm good enough to win this tournament – and that I deserve to do so."

When he walked home amid cheers last night, the airs had become light, but they were, you had to believe, in absolute agreement. And quite thunderously so.

Champion's details: Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen

*Born: 19 October 1982, Mossel Bay, South Africa.

*Enjoyed a stellar amateur career, winning the 2000 World Junior Championship, the 2001 All-African Games in Kenya and the 2002 Indian Amateur Open Championship.

*Turned professional in 2002, aged 19, and joined South Africa's Sunshine Tour. He has won five events on the Tour. Has been a member of the PGA European Tour since 2004.

*Was financially backed by his mentor Ernie Els's Foundation as a younger golfer for three years. The Foundation supports promising golfers from deprived backgrounds. Oosthuizen's father is a farmer from the South Cape. "It was unbelievable what Ernie did for me," he said.

*Was victorious in the Open de Andalucia in March, his only win on the European Tour until yesterday.

54 The number in the World rankings Oosthuizen was before the Open. He was 250-1 to win before the start.

3 Has failed to make the cut in his previous three Opens, and made the cut only once in eight Majors before the Open – finishing 73rd in the PGA Championships in 2008.

4 Oosthuizen is the fourth South African to win the Open after Bobby Locke (1949, 1950, 1952, 1957), Gary Player (1954, 1968, 1974) and Ernie Els (2002).

£850,000 the amount of prize money Oosthuizen will collect after winning the Open yesterday.

*Has the nickname 'Shrek', after friends mocked his gap-toothed smile.