Cam Smith Wins The 150th Open
Australian records a stunning 64 over the Old Course at St Andrews to beat Cameron Young by one. Rory McIlroy hits 18 greens but can only post 70. Plus, Smith's LIV answer, Numbers, Quotes and Tweets.
A veteran media member of more Opens than just about anyone here glumly packed up his things on Sunday night. A storybook Rory McIlroy win fell through and no shortage of R&A free beer could brighten his mood.
“This one bums me right up there with Cinky,” a reference to Stewart Cink’s win over Tom Watson that would have tied the then-59-year-old American for most Open wins with Harry Vardon.
Complicating the emotions: McIlroy did not do anything to lose The 150th Open. The 33-year-old four-time major winner played brilliantly all week on a rock-hard links that he couldn’t have handled a decade ago.
Under Sunday’s milky skies and warm temperatures in St Andrews, McIlroy may not have had his very best, but the 2014 Open Champion also made no significant mistakes. Cameron Smith just snatched this one away with a no-bogey 64 that’ll rank with the great final rounds in major championship history. The eight birdies Sunday—including a five-hole stretch from 10 to 15—were nice and all, but the Australian’s final two pars embodied his embrace of links and an Old Course that managed to put its champion through plenty of the same mental and physical questions it’s asked the previous 29 winners here.
“This place is so cool,” Smith said in the press room, still very much in a Zen mode displayed down the stretch. “I love the golf course. I love the town.”
Smith started the day four strokes back of McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, who lost Saturday’s mojo when they set up what seemed like a classic duel. Sunday, McIlroy hit all 18 greens in regulation, merely missing a few approach shots early despite positioning himself well off the tees.
Two-putting all 18 greens for a 70, McIlroy settled for third behind Smith and the other Cameron, Young, an ultra-impressive PGA Tour rookie who attacked the Old in far more aggressive manner than winner Smith.
With the Claret Jug by his side, Smith said he was frustrated with Saturday’s 1-over-par 73 and “just really put it down to links golf.” An early week bit of profundity dropped by Smith had punters kicking themselves for not placing a karma-based wager at his 28-1 pre-tournament price. The Golf Gods notice quotes like this one.
“Links golf is trying to hit the perfect shot and hoping for the best,” he said on Wednesday. “You are going to get yourself into some ugly spots. You've just got to be ready for it. You've got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Birdies at the 2nd and 5th capped a solid 34, but the 28-year-old remained three strokes back of McIlroy at the turn. Then he unleashed the five-in-a-row birdie stretch, overcoming more of the R&A’s extreme hole placements designed to keep the Old Course from irrelevancy.
From the 10th to the 14th, Smith’s 3-2-3-4-3 run vaulted him into the lead. The 2 at the par-3 11th was one of just five Sunday. Through the same stretch, McIlroy made a magnificent two-putt from 131 feet but could not match Smith’s precision at the Eden, going 3-3-4-5-4, a difference of four strokes.
As impressive as the birdie stretch was, Smith’s calmness at 16 and 17 embodied what it means to navigate the Old Course in a Open.
Walking up to the 16th tee with a one-stroke lead, Smith and caddie Sam Pinfold engaged in one of their longest conversations of the day. Sizing up the Corner of the Dyke, an easterly breeze could easily push a drive out-of-bounds right, the Principal’s Nose requires a 270-yard carry. Smith pulled a pretty lofted iron and aimed left, 237 yards away, well safe but also taking birdie out of the equation since the pin was cut behind the imposing Wig bunker.
With an 182-yard approach, Smith finished 28-feet away and calmly two-putted. The Road hole loomed.
The grandstand wrapping around the 17th tee has been one of the more raucous all week due to its beer stand proximity. But the crowd sensed the moment and quieted down as soon as Smith pulled driver. He calmly piped one 322 yards, setting up an approach to a pin cut 34 yards from the front and just 7 from the mid-green marking point.
Smith said he failed to draw his 158-yard 9-iron crisply.
“That second shot on 17, it's just really an awkward shot, especially where I was,” he said of a tee shot down the left center. “You're only trying to get it to 40 or 50 feet anyway. Just didn't quite commit to the shape I wanted to hit, got it a little bit toey and turned over a touch more than I would have liked.”
Smith could have flopped a wedge straight at the hole but that would have meant taking on the Road bunker and 6 into the equation with a chunk or pretty much any weird bounce off the back side.
“He had to be very decisive with that one,” said playing partner Cameron Young. “Because if you are wondering about if the play he's making is correct, it's a really hard one.”
Smith made the decision to putt 15 feet away from the hole because, in the understatement of the year, “the putter felt really good all day.”
“I knew, if I could get it somewhere in there, that I'd be able to give it a pretty good run. Yeah, managed to get away with a 4 there.”
Young was impressed.
“For him to accept that he was going to have a 12-footer for par, obviously he hit a great first putt to give himself that,” the improbable runner-up said. “There's no guarantee of having a par putt that short. It's just another example of why he's one of the very best. He made a really good decision and executed it perfectly.”
After Young unleashed a drive onto the 18th green, Smith drove to 25 yards from a hole cut over the Valley of Sin. He pitched up to 2 feet and without McIlroy going birdie-birdie, Smith was Champion Golfer of the Year.
“These last four or five holes aren't easy around here, especially with the wind up off the left,” Smith said after. “Just really proud of how I kind of knuckled down today and managed to get it done.”
Countryman Adam Scott hung around after a final round 71 dropped him to T15. He watched the finish from the scoring area and happily assessed Smith’s 64.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They were brutal hole locations but the wind was down. It wasn’t all 100-foot putts. The wind just allowed you to play a shot and there was probably a little more margin. But the up and downs on the last two greens? Quite a dream. He has one of the best short games in the world, there’s no doubt.”
With the win, Smith is the third Australian to win The Open at St Andrews after Peter Thomson in 1955 and Kel Nagle in 1960. Nagle captured the 100th edition and now Smith is champion of the 150th.
“That's pretty cool,” Smith said. “I didn't know that. I think, to win an Open Championship in itself is probably going to be a golfer's highlight in their career. To do it around St Andrews, I think is just unbelievable.”