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With Louis Oosthuizen out in front, British Open poised to produce another surprising champ

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, 27, is no longer a no-name after his dominant, seven-stroke victory at St. Andrews.

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND -- Scan down the leader board after three rounds at the British Open, golf's most ancient major championship, at the Old Course at St. Andrews, golf's most ancient course. Look for a player who has won a major championship. Come on. Keep looking.

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There is two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, but his 3-under-par 69 Saturday included a double bogey at 17, so he is just tied for eighth. Peruse some more. Get down to Tiger Woods, the man who won the last two Opens on this course, the man with 14 major titles to his credit. He is tied for 18th place, battling a disagreeable putter. Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, is muddling back there with Woods, a dozen shots behind.

So unless Goosen strides forward, or Glover catches fire, or Woods does something he has never before done in a major -- come from behind on the final day to win -- it is quite likely that, for the fifth time in the last six majors, a newbie will be champion. The most likely candidate, it appeared as the sun sank low over St. Andrews Bay, is matter-of-fact South African Louis Oosthuizen, widely regarded as a first-round fluke after his opening 65, the leader after a favorable tee time helped him to a second-round 67, and clearly the tournament's best player after his third-round 69 left him at 15-under 201, four shots clear of the field.

"It's great being up there," Oosthuizen said. "I just want to enjoy everything about it. I loved it out there. It was great fun for me, and hopefully tomorrow will be the same."

But how could he know? He's never been there. His advantage is over England's Paul Casey, an accomplished international player who was once No. 3 in the world, but has never finished among the top five in a major. Three more strokes back, at 8-under 208, is Martin Kaymer, a German who was leading the race for the European Tour's Order of Merit a year ago when he injured himself in a go-kart accident. Another shot back of Kaymer are Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who was third in the 2008 Open at Royal Birkdale; Spain's Alejandro Canizares, playing in his first major anywhere; and England's Lee Westwood, the third-ranked player in the world.

Throw in a token American, Dustin Johnson, at 6-under 210, and the top seven players headed into the final round of the British Open are a combined 0 for 116 in majors. That includes, of course, Johnson's experience at this year's U.S. Open, when he took a three-shot lead into Sunday, and imploded with an 82.

"It was just one of those funny days in golf," Johnson said. "We all have them. . . . You can learn from things that happen and move on."

Some of these guys, though, haven't had these experiences. The others could offer advice on what not to do.

"I've made the mistake of chasing in majors before," Westwood said. "Got off to a bad start, and then looked at it afterwards and realized I did not need to be that aggressive."

But that leaves the matter of what to do. Saturday morning, Oosthuizen got a call from countryman Ernie Els, the 2002 Open champion.

"Just have fun," Els told Oosthuizen. "Enjoy it."

Easy for a three-time major winner to say. After an interminable wait for a 4:40 p.m. tee time -- pushed back because the second round had to be completed Saturday morning -- Oosthuizen found himself nervous on the first tee. He had, after all, made the cut just once in eight previous majors. When he reached the green, his first putt ran some 10 feet by, and he missed the come-backer for an opening bogey.

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