Confound the critics, Oosie

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Mike Green looks at the chances of Louis Oosthuizen and the other South Africans playing at Firestone this week.

The post-major hangover is a problem for every first-time winner of golf’s biggest prizes, but the latest Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, has a chance to confound conventional logic in this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
South Africa’s last major champion Trevor Immelman had his dose of post-Masters blues exacerbated by injury in 2008, and is only now returning to some kind of form, while this year’s US Open champion, Graeme McDowell is scratching his head wondering what he needs to do to recreate the form which won him the title at Pebble Beach.
Oosthuizen showed remarkable resilience the week after The Open when he fought off the tiredness and seriously contended in the Scandinavian Masters.
Eventually, it was a bridge too far and his icy composure slipped as his seemingly infinitely repeatable swing faltered in the face of exhaustion.
He showed enough in Sweden, though, to suggest that – despite what some of the US commentators might believe – he’s the real deal.
But he will have to deal with the kind of stuff McDowell is struggling with after his US Open win: “Everyone reminds me of it all the time,” he said.
“The level of intensity, just everything you do makes your weeks busier and makes everything else more difficult.”
And then there is the small matter of the strength of the rest of a field that includes Tiger Woods – and the last winner not named Tiger over the last five years was Vijay Singh in 2008.
In that field are six other South Africans – Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, James Kingston, Hennie Otto and Charl Schwartzel.
Otto got in on the strength of his victory in the Vodacom Championship at Pretoria Country Club in February when he ran away from the field by nine strokes with his 28-under-par total of 260.
Kingston won his second European Tour event at Cologne, Germany in the Mercedes-Benz Championship last September, and that got him the nod.
Goosen has yet to win this year, but he has had a great year with seven top 10s in his 13 starts on the US PGA Tour. The United States courses are his kind of courses – he’s long, he’s straight, and when his putting works, it’s sublime.
Clark, Els and Schwartzel are all winners this year, with five tournaments between them.
Schwartzel has cooled down a little after his hot start to the year – he won the Africa Open and the Joburg Open to sprint out to the upper echelons of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, and he came second to Els in the WGC-CA Championship in March.
With six other top 20s this year, he’s earning buckets of money but will want to win again to underline his abilities.
Els’ other win this year came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and, despite a third place in the US Open, his year has been a bit frustrating, best exemplified by his missed cut in The Open Championship.
Clark made his breakthrough on the US PGA Tour with his victory in the Players Championship, the “fifth major”, and has had four other top-10s. His accurate game is ideally suited to the course, and if his putting gains a measure of consistency, he could contend again.
And Oosthuizen? If his win at St Andrews showed us anything, however, it’s that his game should be good enough on the kinds of US courses that have produced two 59s in tournament play in four weeks: He’s long, he’s straight and he putts well.
That’s what it takes to win anywhere, whether it’s on the links of St Andrews, the Highveld courses of South Africa, the manicured parklands of Spain or the dartboard courses of the United States.
And it’s only in the US where Oosthuizen hasn’t won – yet.

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