May 17, 2014

Oosthuizen seeks to make up for last year’s DFW disappointment

Nelson co-leader suffered neck injury before last year’s final round, scuttling plans for profitable Texas two-step.

To his fellow frontrunners at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, Sunday’s final round is about a trophy and a title. For Louis Oosthuizen, it’s about unfinished business.

“I hope so,” Oosthuizen said after posting eight birdies in the final 14 holes of Saturday’s third round to reach 10-under par and grab a share of the 54-hole lead. “I can’t remember what position I was in last year before I withdrew, but this is a course I feel comfortable on. It’s a golf course I can see myself scoring well on.”

It’s also a course where Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, had to wave goodbye to a nice payday, if not something more, because of a neck injury that flared up before the start of last year’s final round. Oosthuizen, ranked No. 7 in the world rankings at the time, stood at 3-under after rounds of 67-70-70 and needed just one significant hot stretch — like the one he unleashed during Saturday’s third-round 64 at the Four Seasons Resort — to become a factor in the final-round storyline.

Instead, he withdrew from the tournament as well as the 2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, where Oosthuizen would have been the top-ranked golfer competing in Fort Worth. Combined with subsequent ailments to his back and leg, the South African went into an extended tailspin that has seen him drop to No. 39 in the world rankings.

Now, he’s back at the venue where his struggles began. He’s paired in Sunday’s final group with co-leader Brendon Todd, who buried a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to join Oosthuizen, 31, as the golfers everyone will chase in Irving.

That means it’s time for “Oosty” to bury some bad memories and seal the deal at a course that owes him one after last year’s double dose of disappointment. In Oosthuizen’s mind, the neck injury not only denied him a significant payday at the Nelson (he was 32nd when he withdrew), it kept him from capitalizing on a chance to play at Colonial, a course he enjoys and a venue where he finished 19th in his 2012 debut in Fort Worth.

“I love it out here. These are two weeks it’s always fun to come play,” said Oosthuizen, who upped the stakes for this year’s visit with Saturday’s eight-birdie, two-bogey effort at the TPC course.

The significant strokes came on the greens, where Oosthuizen one-putted 10 times despite missing five greens in regulation. His driving (8 of 14 fairways hit) was not especially sharp, either. But he needed only 26 swipes with the flatstick. Oosthuizen had two different stretches with three consecutive birdies, including four in his last five holes.

“Every opportunity I had for birdie I actually made,” Oosthuizen said. “My eye was good, and I hit a lot of them really close [on approach shots].”

Oosthuizen’s effort drew praise from playing partner Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion who stands at 8-under, two strokes off the lead.

“Louis played well. He looked really good,” Harrington said. “He putted well and was on his form. It’s hard to see him not shooting 4-under par [Sunday], or something like that.”

If he can pull that off, Oosthuizen would be well-positioned to outlast his pursuers on a crowded leader board that shows 12 golfers within three strokes of the lead.

That would allow him to ease his DFW disappointment from 2013 and begin climbing back in the right direction in the world rankings. Without question, he grasps the irony.

“The last year and a half has been really frustrating,” Oosthuizen said. “Injury on injury. I had the neck injury here. I was on the range and couldn’t really take the club back properly and I didn’t want to hurt it farther.”

Eventually, that morphed into leg and back ailments that caused Oosthuizen to withdraw after a first-round 75 at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Oosthuizen also walked away after playing just six holes at the 2013 British Open, a departure he called the lowest moment in his recent health-related travails.

Thus far, 2014 has not been much kinder.

“I’ve been struggling still with lower-back injuries and have to withdraw three or four weeks ago when I was in Indonesia,” Oosthuizen said. “So it’s a frustrating season for me so far. I’m working on a few things to see if we can get it sorted out.”

For the first time this season, Oosthuizen will have momentum on his side heading into a final round at a PGA Tour event. He is counting on that to play a major role in Sunday’s outcome.

“It’s always nice finishing a round on a high,” Oosthuizen said. “You sort of feed off that the next day.”

Particularly at a course where the co-leader feels he has some unfinished business to attend to on a Sunday afternoon.

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