One bad tee shot. It was just when he needed to be at his most freewheeling on Sunday that Louis Oosthuizen tensed up and pulled his tee shot on the 17th into a penalty area and he lost his grip on the US Open Championship title that was firmly in his grasp.
Spaniard Jon Rahm had finished in a rush with birdies on 17 and 18, and he was in the Torrey Pines clubhouse at six-under-par after his superlative four-under 67. Oosthuizen was at five-under, and, with the 18th playing the easiest on the course, he needed to negotiate the 17th in level-par and then make birdie or better on the last to match or beat Rahm.
The penalty drop Oosthuizen had to make after that wayward drive on 17 effectively sank his chances of winning his second major championship, and condemned him to a sixth runner-up finish in majors. He is now halfway to a second ‘grand slam’ of runner-up finishes in the majors, having come second for a second time in the PGA Championship last month.
He looked physically ill after he made that bad tee shot, although he walked to his ball with purpose and did his best to salvage par on 17. When he made bogey, his only option was to go for the eagle-three on the par-five 18th. But he missed the fairway left off the tee there, and he laid up for a final fling at attempting a chip-in eagle.
It was a good chip, but it didn’t come down the slope, and, on the green where he made eagle in the third round, he acknowledged the applause of the crowd as if in a daze.
While it would be easy for the blame to be laid at the door of that poor drive on 17, Oosthuizen could equally look at his tee shot on the long par-three 11th. He pushed that right into heavy rough, and, although he recovered well enough to have a look at par, he didn’t hit the 20-footer firmly enough to avoid making bogey.
A two-stroke lead which he had eked out with birdies on nine and 10, when his putting finally started matching the qualities it had displayed throughout the last year or so, was down to one.
And Rahm was charging.