NORTON, Mass. — Louis Oosthuizen combined one of the sweetest swings in golf with a putting stroke that was just as pure. That’s all it took for him to race by Rory McIlroy, leave Tiger Woods behind and seize control Sunday in the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Oosthuizen ran off seven straight birdies. He shot a 29 on the front nine of the TPC Boston. And at one point, he went 19 consecutive holes without missing a green. One last birdie on the par-5 18th gave him an 8-under 63 and a three-shot lead over McIlroy going into the Labor Day finish.
McIlroy, trying to match Woods with his third PGA Tour win this year, did well just to stay in range.
The PGA Championship winner started the third round with a one-shot lead and had a 4-under 67, the kind of score that should keep him atop the leaderboard. Instead, he had to answer with four birdies on the back nine just to give himself a chance Monday.
“Louis put on a display out there,” McIlroy. “It was great to watch.”
That’s about all anyone could do. Woods had a 68 and was six shots behind, along with Dustin Johnson, who kept alive his hopes of being picked for the Ryder Cup with a 65.
Oosthuizen has a “57” on the left sleeve of his shirt, a reference to the score he once had at home in Mossel Bay along the Garden Route of South Africa.
“This felt similar, except that I was playing with friends and not in a big tournament like this one,” Oosthuizen said.
For a short time, it looked as though that personal record might be in jeopardy until he settled into a string of pars on the back nine. He dropped his lone shot on the 17th when he missed the green to the left and had to scramble for bogey.
The 2010 British Open champion — he won by seven shots at St. Andrews — was at 19-under 194.
“Every putt had perfect speed,” said Oosthuizen, who made four putts of at least 20 feet during his streak of birdies. “I told Rory, ‘Sorry, but you’ve got to take it when you can.’”
The exchange they had on the 11th hole indicated what kind of performance this was.
Oosthuizen covered the flag on one of the toughest par 3s at the TPC Boston, though the ball settled 20 feet behind the cup and he narrowly missed to end the streak. McIlroy followed with a beautiful swing of his own, a towering shot that drew gently and stopped 6 feet behind the cup for birdie.
McIlroy waited at the back of the green for Oosthuizen to tap in for par, held out his arm and clinched his fist and said to him, “I’ve got the honors.” They laughed, exchanged a high-five and McIlroy told him as they headed to the 12th tee, “I feel like I’ve got a chance.”
Woods was never in the picture, though he is not out of the hunt.
He got off to a slow start, not picking up a birdie until the fifth hole, but came on late with back-to-back birdies to stay in the game. He’ll play the final round with Johnson, who twice made bogey with a 9-iron in hand and still had eight birdies on the day.
Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number, also had a 63 and while he won’t be a factor at 13 shots behind, Bradley and Oosthuizen showed that it can be done. Six years ago, Woods shot 63 in the final round to beat Vijay Singh.
“I’m going to have to put together one of those rounds,” Woods said. “It won’t surprise me if somebody shoots 8- or 9-under par tomorrow because of where the pin locations are. Somebody is going to go out there and do it. It may be early, it may be late, who knows? But hopefully, I’m one of those guys.”
Bryce Molder, who is No. 93 in the FedEx Cup, had a 68 and was tied for fifth with Ryan Moore (70), eight shots behind. The position on the leaderboard is more significant to Molder than how many shots he is behind, for only the top 70 in the FedEx Cup advance to Indianapolis next week for the third playoff event.
Even so, it was hard not to ignore the separation from Oosthuizen.
“I never saw what he did. I just remember looking up and going, ‘Wait a minute. I’m like eight or 10 back.’ I thought I’m playing pretty well.”
He was, and so where other players. Oosthuizen was in a class by himself, especially considering he was in the last group after the sun had baked the course most of the day until clouds and a light rain arrived for the final few holes.
Brandt Snedeker, also trying to get the attention of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, had a 30 on the back nine and finished with an eagle for a 65, putting him in a tie for second. Snedeker was the runner-up last week at The Barclays. Love will announce his four picks Tuesday morning in New York.
“I’m pleased,” Snedeker said. “The only thing missing is a win. I think Davis wants me to go out there and try to win. I came close last week, a little frustrated with the way I finished last week, but this week I’ve still got a chance. This is kind of where I make my hay, when I’m out of it.”
He didn’t imagine being 10 shots behind.