The sporting year: the Open

THE 150th anniversary of the Open Championship didn't exactly go according to plan. A keenly-anticipated Champions' Challenge on the eve of the event was washed out on one of the most dismal days in the whole of 2010, while the Claret Jug was claimed by a 250-1 outsider who also just happened to be a dead ringer for the fictional film character Shrek.

Louis Oosthuizen, a 27-year-old from Mossel Bay in South Africa, arrived at St Andrews in July with an unimpressive major record, having made the cut just once in six previous appearances in those events and failed to make the final two rounds on his three attempts in the oldest of them.

However, he emerged as a worthy winner, joining Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Ernie Els on the list of South Africans to have been crowned as Open champions, at the end of a week when the weather proved a key factor and some, including Oosthuizen, counted their lucky stars to have been on the favourable side of the draw.

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Day one, which started with Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, striking the opening blow, belonged to Rory McIlroy, the young Ulsterman, whose desire to become a major champion had been fuelled by close friend Graeme McDowell's US Open win at Pebble Beach a few weeks beforehand, taking full advantage of the flat calm conditions to card a nine-under-par 63.

Playing in his first Open at St Andrews, though he'd gained lots of experience on the Old Course in both the Dunhill Links Championship and the Links Trophy, the 21-year-old, whose round was highlighted by an eagle and five birdies in seven holes from the ninth, led Oosthuizen by two shots, with John Daly, the 1995 champion, and Scotland's Andrew Coltart among a group on 66.

Significantly, Oosthuizen had made his score in the afternoon, which gave him an early start on day two, when buffeting winds not only forced play to be suspended for over an hour in the afternoon but also saw the average score go up by three strokes to over 74.

Oosthuizen, out in the second group at 6.41am, played part of his round in the wind and rain, but picked up three successive birdies from the fifth to be out in 33 and, after signing for a 67, was the first to admit he'd received a break when the wind dropped completely at the tenth and was then at his back for the last five holes.

Mark Calcavecchia, the winner at Royal Troon in 1989, was out even earlier than Oosthuizen and also took full advantage, the 50-year-old American signing for a 67 as well to sit second on his own at the halfway stage on 137, five shots behind the South African.

Paul Casey (69) and Lee Westwood (71) were both on 138, as was Jin Jeong, the South Korean who had earned his place in the field by winning the Amateur Championship at Muirfield and who went on to claim the Silver Medal by tying for 14th on 284.

As for McIlroy, it was the day the Old Course gained revenge. Out in the afternoon, he had started with three pars before the suspension and had also split the fairway with his tee shot at the fourth. However, he was all over the place after the resumption and eventually signed for an 80. His record of never having shot higher than 69 on the Old Course had gone and, though he bounced back admirably with closing scores of 69 and 68, so, too, was his chance of lifting the Claret Jug on this occasion.

Due to the delay, it was late in the day when play finished on the Friday but, for those die-hards who stayed to the end, there was the unforgettable sight of Tom Watson, the five-time Open champion, standing atop the Swilcan Bridge and waving his cap as he said goodbye to St Andrews in his last appearance there in this event.

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"I thought of Arnold (Palmer] on the bridge, I thought of Jack (Nicklaus] on the bridge," said an emotional Watson after almost holing a chip shot over the Valley of Sin but missed the cut after being unable to reproduce the heroic performance that almost saw him claim the title for a sixth time at Turnberry 12 months earlier. "This is not my last Open Championship. I intend to play some more. But it's my last Open Championship at St Andrews."

Watson, who had received an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews earlier in the week along with Palmer and Padraig Harrington, departed the Auld Grey Toon with a glowing tribute to the fans who'd adored him over the years. "The Scots invented the game and they love the game with a passion unlike any other people. I enjoy that," he noted.

With the second round having to be completed on the Saturday morning – Scotland's Stephen Gallacher was among those who had to make an early return but managed to qualify and went on to finish as the leading home-based player in a tie for 23rd – Oosthuizen faced a nervy wait to try and protect his handy cushion.

But, if anyone thought the young South African would crumble under the pressure, they were badly mistaken on another day when conditions were testing, though, thankfully, not nearly as troublesome as the previous day. Oosthuizen started with a three-putt bogey and, at one point, Casey had closed the gap on the leader to just one shot, the Englishman going on to card a third-round 67 for a total of 205 to sit in joint-second alongside Martin Kaymer (68).

However, Oosthuizen birdied both the seventh and ninth, where he got down in two from 60 feet, then delivered two more telling blows towards the end of his round, holing a monster birdie putt at the 16th and also making a birdie at the last for a 69 to secure a four-shot advantage heading into the final round.

Given the way he flighted the ball so well in the conditions throughout the week, Oosthuizen must have been delighted to see the wind whip up just before he set out on the Sunday and, before too long, it became apparent the question about to be answered wasn't 'would he win' but 'how many shots was he going to do it by' in becoming the first player since Tony Lema in 1964 to land their first major at St Andrews.

A dropped shot at the short eighth allowed Casey to close within three but Oosthuizen's response was magnificent, holing a 45-foot putt for an eagle-2 at the next, which, coupled with a triple-bogey 7 from his playing partner at the 12th, effectively sealed the deal, even with the Road Hole and its controversial new tee to come.

Oosthuizen limited the damage there to a bogey, signed for a closing 71 and, with a total of 272, was crowned as the Champion Golfer of the Year by seven shots, Westwood coming through to claim second spot after a 70, with Casey (75) finishing a further shot back alongside McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.

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While some will point to the weather as one of the reasons the man with the difficult to pronounce name enjoyed the finest hour or his career to date, his performance was every bit as impressive as those produced by Tiger Woods in winning the two previous Open Championships at St Andrews.

And, just as Lema had done 36 years earlier, Oosthuizen showed a touch of class as he sent some bottles of champagne to the Media Centre so that the army of press people from around the world could toast his triumph.