With nine holes remaining in the 150th Open at St. Andrews, Cameron Smith, a 28-year-old Australian, sat three shots back of then-leader Rory McIlroy. What happened next may just be the single greatest run in major championship history.
Smith picked up a birdie on the short par-4 10th hole, which was just the start of his miraculous run to the Claret Jug. The 2022 Players Champion caught absolute fire and went on to birdie each of his next four holes, catching McIlroy at 18-under for a share of the lead.
While McIlroy was stuck in neutral for the entire back-nine, Smith kicked his game into first gear — and added another birdie at the 18th hole to seal the deal. All in all, Smith shot a 6-under 30 in the final nine holes of the tournament to snatch the Claret Jug out of McIlroy’s hands and become the fifth Australian to win The Open.
With the victory, Smith picks up his first career major championship and vaults to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Heading into the final round at The Old Course, Smith sat four shots back of the lead and would need a miracle to come away with a victory. Well, a miracle did indeed occur, but here are four key reasons why Smith was able to run down McIlroy and win Champion Golfer of the Year.
1. The Best Putter In The World Came Alive
For those that may have forgotten, Smith was the 36-hole leader at The 150th Open following an 8-under round of 64 on Friday. One big reason why Smith was able to tear apart the course in Friday’s round was thanks to the strength of his game, the putter.
Smith rolled in 253 feet worth of putts during the second round, which was the most ever recorded in a single round on the PGA Tour.
However, throughout the third round on Saturday, Smith’s putter consistently let him down — leading to a 1-over 73. In order to even have a chance of storming back on Sunday, Smith would need his putter to bounce back in a big way, and boy did it ever.
Smith went on to gain 3.10 strokes putting during the final round, and despite his struggles on the greens Saturday, he still amassed a whopping 11.98 strokes total for the tournament. 1.6 more strokes than any other player in the field.
2. Rory’s Putter Went Ice Cold
Even though McIlroy had 2-putted each of the first nine holes to start Sunday’s round, there was never a feeling that his putter was going to let him down in the end.
But as Smith made his charge on the back-nine, McIlroy was unable to make a single putt of distance, which resulted in his lead disappearing with just five holes left to play.
In total, McIlroy lost 2.18 strokes on the greens during the final round and failed to one-putt a single hole. McIlroy even hit all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday, but just simply couldn’t get the putter to cooperate when he needed it to the most.
To make matters worse for McIlroy, Sunday was one of the worst putting days of his entire major championship career. Calling that untimely would be putting it nicely.
3. Smith’s Driver Matched McIlroy’s
Aside from Bryson DeChambeau, there may not be a single player on the PGA Tour that’s better with the driver than McIlroy. Although, during the final nine holes on Sunday, Smith went toe-to-toe with McIlroy off the tee box.
Starting on the par-4 10th hole, Smith was able to nestle his drive up near the green and left himself in a perfect spot to go and grab a birdie.
Fittingly, on the 18th hole, Smith hit his best drive of the day, nearly reaching the green from 350 yards out. With his short game at its best, Smith lagged a long eagle putt to about four feet, giving him a tap-in birdie to reach 20-under.
With McIlroy needing to make eagle on the final hole, the 2014 Open Champion was not able to take advantage of his greatest asset and ended up well short of the green off the tee.
In the end, Smith was able to best McIlroy at his own game, adding even more insult to injury.
After FINALLY cooling off and making par at the 15th and 16th holes, Smith found himself in a bit of trouble at the ‘Road Hole’, needing to get up and down from a testy leave to stay in the lead.
While many players would have succumbed to the pressure of the moment, Smith relied on his immaculate short game and was able to sink a 10-footer for par to stay one shot clear of McIlroy.
In addition to his nerves of steel shown on 17, Smith also had to step up and sink a short putt after Cameron Young pulled a rabbit out of his hat and sank an eagle to get to 19-under.
Smith calmly stepped up to the plate and delivered the final blow with a birdie at the last.
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