There is a remarkable simplicity in the way Louis Oosthuizen spontaneously “arrives.” For so long you hardly notice he’s around, and suddenly you can’t take your eyes off him.
“You guys don’t know it, but when he’s playing like this he’s unstoppable,” Charl Schwartzel said of his longtime junior mate who was infiltrating the Masters Tournament leaderboard for the first time last April. “When he’s hot, he’s real hot.”
For six years, Oosthuizen would periodically show up at majors and disappear without leaving much of a mark. Then suddenly, after seven missed cuts and a dead-last effort in eight career major starts, he ran away with the Claret Jug in a 2010 British Open romp at St. Andrews.
He tried to apply that sneaky script again at Augusta. With three missed cuts to show for his Masters experience, Oosthuizen was easy to overlook even in the penultimate pairing Sunday afternoon. At least until his 4-iron on the second hole went bounding and rolling on a long path to the bottom of the cup for an albatross that turned the 2012 Masters upside down.
The suddenness of his arrival even surprised the unflappable Oosthuizen.
“From two behind to two in the lead was a big step,” he said of the unprecedented double eagle on No. 2. “Mentally I think it took a hole or two to get over that, not being prepared for having a lead immediately. But once I got over that, I felt fairly confident.”
If not for Bubba Watson’s four consecutive birdies on the back nine and winning on the second sudden death playoff hole with a shot that upstaged a Masters double eagle, Oosthuizen would be serving his own South African braai at the Champions Dinner as a two-time major winner.
Instead, he returns as a favorite on a course he’d never broken par on before 2012.
“It’ll be nice to go back there,” Oosthuizen said. “I think Augusta you need to play it a few times and find your own way to play it. A lot of times what someone else sees, you don’t see it at all. It’s difficult to play the course the way someone else thinks is the best way. That’s not how your eye sees it.”
Oosthuizen didn’t think he was ready to play Augusta’s kind of golf even after winning the British Open. His entire life had been spent playing in Europe and Africa on courses that little resembled the pace and exacting standards of American venues.
“It took me awhile to get to playing on fast greens,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable with Augusta on the greens, you’re not going to play well.”
Oosthuizen used his status gained at the British Open to start playing on the U.S. tour, and it was a gradual transition.
“I gave myself a few years to settle in really,” he said. “It’s completely different golf than what I was used to. While I didn’t have a great season two years ago, playing it the whole year got me used to everything, and last year I felt I played really well. And now I struggle playing on slow greens. I like fast greens and don’t really want to play it any other way. I’m really excited about the season.”
Considering his results since last summer, he should be. Since the U.S. Open, Oosthuizen has missed only one cut worldwide with 10 top-six finishes before the Florida swing. That torrid stretch sent him as high as No. 4 in the world rankings.
“Louis is the type of player that can be No. 1 in the world,” said Ernie Els, a four-time major winner who helped mentor Oosthuizen. “He can win six, seven majors. He’s got that kind of talent.”
Oosthuizen returns to Augusta as one of the game’s elite and with little regret. He hit perfect putts on both playoff holes only to have them veer barely out of the holes.
“Both of them, how they missed, it was just not meant to be,” he said.
He couldn’t have done much more to stop Watson’s charge and final heroics.
“I played my game,” he said. “I didn’t hit a great tee shot with a 3-wood (on 10 in the playoff) and left myself a long way back. Hit a pretty decent shot but the ball didn’t go anywhere at that time of the night, really. I left myself with a tough chip. … All in all it would have been nice for me to just hit the green in two and put a bit of pressure on him, but that’s how it goes.”
As for his historic albatross, nothing eclipses that experience.
“All the tee boxes until 16, everybody was still congratulating me on the double eagle there,” he said. “So it was really a special thing and I took a lot out of that even though I lost in the playoff. I’ll keep that 4-iron in my mind and hopefully I’ll have the same on Sunday.”