NORTON — As Louis Oosthuizen began walking down the steps of the scoring trailer, his 2-year-old daughter, Jana, ran over to greet him, blissfully unaware of what her father had accomplished the previous four hours at TPC Boston. Jumping excitedly up and down seemed to be Jana’s natural reaction.
It was entirely appropriate, because Daddy had a very rewarding day at work.
Anyone hoping for a final-round pairing of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the Deutsche Bank Championship can blame Oosthuizen for crashing the party. The record-setting third round he put together on Sunday stole the show, and threatened to turn the tournament into a blowout with one day remaining.
Oosthuizen birdied eight of his first 10 holes at TPC Boston, quickly seizing the lead from McIlroy and putting golf’s magic number — 59 — firmly in his mind. Maybe too much. A string of back-nine pars and a lone bogey at No. 17 derailed thoughts of 59, but a birdie at the last meant an 8-under-par 63, good for a three-shot lead over McIlroy. The two once again will be in the final group for Monday’s final round.
About the only thing Oosthuizen knew about TPC Boston — he never had played in the Deutsche Bank Championship before this year — was that it yielded a lot of birdies, which meant it was susceptible to low scores if a player got hot.
Check, and check.
“I put myself in a good spot to shoot 59. I gave myself good chances to post that number,” Oosthuizen said. “But I think it would have been really tough playing tomorrow shooting in the 50s today. So I’m very happy with my 8 under.”
Wait. So he’s glad he didn’t shoot 59?
“I won’t say that,” Oosthuizen said, smiling. “It was a great opportunity to put myself in a big lead going into tomorrow. You know, all in all, started the day one behind, leading by three.”
He built a six-shot lead midway through the round, but a back-nine 32 by McIlroy closed the gap a bit and kept Oosthuizen within shouting distance. It might be a two-horse race; Woods (68) and Dustin Johnson (65) are tied for third, six shots back.
Oosthuizen set a number of tournament records Sunday: low front-nine score (7-under 29), most consecutive birdies (seven), low 54-hole total (19-under 194). The 72-hole Deutsche Bank Championship record of 22-under 262 also could be in jeopardy.
The way Oosthuizen was playing and the run he got on, McIlroy sounded thrilled to be within three strokes.
“I was delighted when I got the honor back on the 12th tee,” McIlroy said. “Louis is the sort of player that can do that. He’s very explosive, and he didn’t really put a foot wrong today. Very impressive round by him. But I stayed patient, I made a few birdies on the way in, and very happy only to be three behind.”
McIlroy started the third round one stroke ahead, and doubled his lead by starting birdie-birdie. But Oosthuizen closed to within one when he birdied No. 4, caught McIlroy with a birdie at the fifth, and took the lead with another at No. 6.
By the time he was done making birdies — every hole, from Nos. 4-10 — his lead was a whopping six shots.
Four of the seven straight birdies (Nos. 5, 6, 8, and 9) came on putts from at least 20 feet.
“Probably the start anyone would dream of on that front nine,” Oosthuizen said. “I made everything, so you get those days where you just look at a putt and you hole it. That was my first nine holes.”
Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen is a 29-year-old from South Africa who has yet to win a PGA Tour event on US soil. He did capture the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews in convincing style, rolling to a seven-shot victory (McIlroy was joint third). He’s no stranger to going low, either, once shooting a 15-under-par 57 back home at Mossel Bay Golf Club.
That was just a casual round with his mates, and he got stuck buying the drinks. Come Monday, he’ll be trying to close out a victory that pays $1.44 million to the champion.
He’s been close this year, losing to Bubba Watson in a playoff at the Masters. In the past month, he’s also been fourth at the Bridgestone Invitational and tied for fifth last week at The Barclays. He’s ranked 17th in the world, in possession of one of golf’s sweetest swings. With 18 holes to go, he’s also in control here, with the game’s two biggest names giving chase.
“The more I’m in position on the back nine on Sunday — or in this case on Monday — then it’s going to happen sooner or later,” Oosthuizen said. “I’m just going to keep plodding on.”