CameronSmith He stormed into history on The Old Course, a Sunday stunner at St Andrews that sent the Aussie through overcoming to his first major Rory McIlroy to win the British Open.
The stage was set for McIlroy to end his eight-year major streak and conclude a week of celebrations in the home of golf at the 150th Open.
Instead, Smith stole the show by putting down five straight birdies to start the back nine and delivering more clutch moments at the end. His 8-under 64 was the lowest final round by a champion in golf’s 30-times oldest championship, played at St Andrews.
Smith won in one shot against Cameron Young, who potted a 15-foot eagle putt on the final hole to briefly secure the lead.
It wasn’t enough, and McIlroy couldn’t muster anything either.
McIlroy couldn’t make a putt early. He couldn’t hit it close enough late. His last good chance was a 15-foot birdie attempt at the scary road hole at #17, narrowly missing on the left.
Smith, who saved par on the 17th with a 10-foot putt, had his tee shot ahead of the 18th green. From 80 feet, his pace was near perfect up the slope and toward the cup, earning him a tap-in birdie to finish in 20-under 268.
Smith equaled the major championship record on par, last set by Dustin Johnson at the 2020 Masters in November.
McIlroy needed Eagle to tie him up and his chip through the Valley of Sin didn’t stand a chance. He missed the birdie and ended up in third place with a 70.
Smith is the first Australian since Kel Nagle in 1960 to win at St Andrews when he outplayed a rising American star named Arnold Palmer, the people’s choice.
This is McIlroy now and all day there was an energy along the humps and troughs of the Old Course all waiting to celebrate McIlroy as Open Champion at St Andrews.
He gave them little to celebrate – two birdies, par 16, even more disappointment.
“I got cold with the putter,” McIlroy said. “When both Camerons – Smith in particular – made that run up the back nine, I had to dig deep to make birdies. And I just couldn’t. I was beaten by the better player this week. To go out and shoot 64 Winning the Open Championship at St Andrews is a hell of a performance. Hats off to Cam.”
Under that hat is a mullet the 28-year-old Australian has grown in recent years, and now he has a far bigger identity: Champion Golfer of the Year – at St Andrews, no less.
He won a third time this year – most recently The Players Championship – and moves up to No. 2 in the world behind Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.
Smith is the first Australian to win the Open at Royal St George’s since Greg Norman in 1993. Norman has been asked not to return this year – there was no indication he would – because of his Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf, which has bid millions to attract players like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, big champions to play in ended up in the top 10.
But that day belonged to Smith and that magic putter.
He started the final loop four strokes down and was still three strokes behind when he made the turn. McIlroy played controlled golf, his only birdie being a two-putt from 18 feet on the fifth par-5. Viktor Hovland, who started the final round level on points with McIlroy, never played a role. He only made his first birdie on the 12th hole and finished with a 74.
That run by Smith to the back nine is now part of Open lore.
On the short 10th he hit a nifty pitch to 5 feet for birdie. He boldly back pind the par 11 and holed a 15 foot birdie and screwed the next two holes of about that length. His fifth in a row was a putt from 90 feet on the par-5 14, over a huge hill and down the slope to a tap-in range that gave him the lead for the first time.
McIlroy couldn’t catch up. His lag putting was terrific. That wasn’t what he needed. And he got no help from Smith, whose single miss was his biggest challenge.
The nefarious Road Hole bunker was between him and the flag on the 17. He used his putter to drive over the right edge of the bunker and onto the green 10 feet away, and he poured out another putt, this time for par, around to stay ahead.
Young had his chances in his Open debut. On the 15th, he left a 6-foot putt with about a foot gap. At the next hole he came up short with a wedge. He drilled his drive and neared 17th only to miss another birdie chance.
He eventually delivered, but all he got was a 65 and the silver medal.
Smith made his final yardage and the engraver set to work on this burgundy silver pitcher, a prize first awarded to the 1873 champion at St Andrews. There’s a lot of history surrounding this gray old town, and Smith became a big part of it.
Associated Press reporting.
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