ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Louis Oosthuizen withstood everything thrown at him by the Scottish weather, a hungry chasing pack and a testing Old Course layout to move to the brink of a first major win at the British Open on Saturday.
The South African, who missed the cut in his previous three Opens, stood one solid round away from lifting the Claret Jug after a composed 69 maintained a four-shot buffer at 15 under ahead of Sunday’s final round.
England’s Paul Casey led a charge that looked most likely to unsettle Oosthuizen, firing a flawless 67 to match the best of the day and go 11 under as the bids of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood faltered.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer was third after a 68 moved him to eight under with Westwood, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and Spaniard Alejandro Canizares one shot further back.
“It’s not every day you play in the final group leading the Open championship. I’m going to try and do my own thing,” said Oosthuizen, who got a phone call of encouragement from fellow South African and three-times Open winner Gary Player before his round.
Ever since Oosthuizen carded a 67 on Friday and the fierce winds scattered his rivals asunder, the cynics have been waiting for his lack of experience at the business end of majors to show, but the implacable 27-year-old from Mossel Bay has had none of it.
Even after an opening hole bogey the predicted collapse never came and Oosthuizen seemed to relish the task of defying expectation.
He picked up birdies at the seventh and ninth and parred six straight holes before producing a moment of magic on the 16th green which, as with many of the putting surfaces here, is shared with another hole.
Oosthuizen puffed his cheeks out in frustration when his second shot ended up closer to the second hole flag and some 60 feet away from his intended target.
Getting down in two seemed the best outcome, but he rolled an immaculate putt straight into the hole for the most unexpected of birdies.
He parred the devilishly difficult Road hole before an inspired drive at the 18th gave him a 15ft-putt for an eagle and the chance to re-establish the five-shot lead with which he started the day.
He dragged the putt right but had an easy tap-in for birdie and the tournament is now his to lose.
“Tomorrow I’m probably going to do pretty much the same and just go out there, hit shot for shot, and never get ahead of myself,” he said.
Not even the four-shot deficit could wipe the smile off Casey’s face, for the Englishman was back producing his best after a year in which a nagging rib injury picked up in the build-up to last year’s Open has affected his play.
He went out in an impeccable five-under 31 and though the birdies dried up on the back nine his was the most controlled round of the day.
“Nothing is better than an Open championship at the home of golf. So I’m loving it,” the 32-year-old beamed to a press conference.
“I’m loving the fact I’m playing absolutely great golf and I’m four shots behind Louis. I get along great with Louis, as well. So I think tomorrow is going to be a lot of fun.”
For Woods it was another frustrating day at the office. His one-over 73 left him 12 shots off Oosthuizen’s pace and a fourth Claret Jug and third crown here is beyond even him.
“I was grinding, I was as patient as I possibly could be today, and I was just trying to plod my way along and just didn’t get anything going,” the dejected world number one said.
Kaymer put himself into contention for a first major win with an elegant 68 but he was realistic about his chances of reeling in the front two.
“I don’t really see myself shooting a 63 under those conditions, and I’m not expecting them to shoot 73 or 74 either,” he said.
Casey and Oosthuizen tee off in the final grouping on Sunday at 10:05 a.m. EDT.
Editing by Ed Osmond