How Cameron Smith Stole Sunday at The Open Championship From Rory McIlroy
On Sunday at the 150th Open Championship, the attention was on Rory McIlroy. Most people at St. Andrews followed him and Viktor Hovland, but Australian Cameron Smith was putting on a show just one group ahead. Needless to say, there was a lot of pressure on McIlroy. It seemed like everyone was pulling for him, which is what begged the question: Did Cameron Smith win The Open, or did Rory lose The Open? The answer to that question is yes, to both. But Cameron Smith delivered one of the most iconic back-nine performances in major golf history, and he deserved every bit of his victory.
On Saturday, Cameron Smith was devastated as he carded a 73. He thought it was all over for him. And most others did too, seeing as he was four shots off the lead. Fans watching at home saw the reality that it would be between Hovland and McIlroy, and those at St. Andrews were ecstatic that the Northern Irishman was in contention on Sunday with a very good chance of winning. Entering the final round, Smith stayed near the top of the leaderboard. Things looked promising for fans at St. Andrews: Rory has been playing fantastic golf this year and he’s overdue for another major after eight years of waiting. Plus, isn’t it kind of destiny for him to win in his homeland where everyone is cheering just for him? You’d think so.
Rory was doing a lot of things right, and he certainly stuck to his game. He played it safe, as he does. On Sunday, he avoided bunkers, stuck greens, and hit fairways as best he could. He hit all 18 greens in regulation (pretty much unheard of). Unfortunately for Rory and the crowd at St. Andrews, it wasn’t enough. As he said in his post-tournament interview, “I didn’t do much wrong today, but I didn’t do much right either.” His putts simply wouldn’t drop, and with 36 of them it was becoming impossible to win at the Old Course. What would set Smith apart is that he did not experience the same problem. Not even close as a matter of fact.
Smith birdied two holes on the front nine for a 34, but remained three shots behind McIlroy and one behind Hovland. Then, Smith, who was considered the underdog that day, did something magical. Once he made the turn, he caught fire, stringing together five birdies in a row, and claiming the sole lead at 19 under par. His putter was undoubtedly the best and the most important club in his bag that day: it won him the tournament. After a clutch par save on #17 and another birdie on #18, he carded a 64 and finished at 20 under par on the weekend.
After his surreal performance on the back nine and his unlikely comeback, Cameron Smith hoisted the Claret Jug and wondered what any 28-year-old would: how many beers he could fit inside of it. This was the first time he showed emotion all day. During his round, he was completely stoic. If you were to watch him without seeing his score, you’d have no idea whether he was shooting 20 under or 20 over. It seemed his only thought was to focus on the process and keep doing what he’s doing. Because, as Cam Smith knows better than anybody, it’s not over until it’s over.
Photo: Glyn Kirk / Getty Images