The British Open Sunday stunner that saw Cameron Smith win the silver claret jug and the show along with the finest final round the Old Course had ever seen belonged to him.
At the outset, Smith was four strokes down as a record setting audience waited to see how McIlroy would end a week of festivities at the 150th Open. When he made the turn, he was just three strokes behind.
After running off five straight birdies to seize the lead, the tenacious Australian with his mystical putter faced a nerve-racking putt around the dangerous Road Hole bunker to save par, and he ended with two putts from 80 feet for a birdie to finish with an 8-under 64.
”To win an Open Championship in itself is probably going to be a golfer’s highlight in their career,” Smith says. ”To do it around St. Andrews I think is just unbelievable.”
So was his golf.
No winner had ever closed with a 64 in the 29 previous editions of golf’s oldest event hosted at St. Andrews. Smith’s final score of 20-under 268 matched the lowest score to par in any major and set a record for the Old Course.
”I got beaten by the better player this week. To go out and shoot 64 to win the Open Championship at St. Andrews is a hell of a showing. Hats off to Cam,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy reached every green in regulation but two-putted all of them for a score of 70, leaving him in third position and forcing him to wait nearly nine months before he can try to end his majors drought, which has now lasted eight years. Of the two birdies he made, the rest were pars.
Cameron Young, who made a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole to temporarily tie for the lead, finished second to Smith by one stroke.
It and everything McIlroy could manage just weren’t enough.
Early on, McIlroy failed to make a putt. He couldn’t get it close enough late. His final strong chance was a birdie try from 15 feet at the perilous Road Hole at No. 17, which just missed to the left. McIlroy’s chip through the Valley of Sin had no chance because he needed an eagle to tie him up.
The oldest links in the world, with its double greens and pot bunkers, Kapalua’s spacious fairways, the TPC Sawgrass’ intimidating visual presence of water, and this year’s third winner, Smith, all played on completely different layouts.
At Kapalua, he defeated the top player in the world, Jon Rahm. At The Players Championship, he defeated the best golfers in the world. And in order to win his first major, he had to overturn a four-shot deficit against a strong fan favorite.
It was difficult to believe even with the silver claret jug in his hands.
”All the names on there, every player that’s been at the top of their game has won this championship,” Smith said. ”It’s pretty cool to be on there. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think it will for a few weeks. Yeah, it’s just unreal.”
Since Kel Nagle’s victory at St. Andrews in 1960, when he defeated emerging American star Arnold Palmer in the public vote, Smith is the first Australian to take home the trophy.
In this situation, McIlroy is. Tiger Woods missed the cut in what may have been his final Open at St. Andrews, leaving a void that was filled by him. He had assistance that helped him get close to victory in the golf capital. McIlroy referred to it as “The Holy Grail” earlier in the week.
There had been anticipation for McIlroy to win the Open at St. Andrews all day long along the Old Course’s crests and valleys.
He didn’t do much to keep them engaged.
The putter “went cold on me,” according to McIlroy. ”When both Camerons – especially Smith – went on that run on the back nine, I had to dig deep to make birdies. And I just couldn’t.”
That left Australian Smith, 28, who is renowned for his perseverance and putting style, on the 18th green to be named the “champion golfer of the year.”
Since Greg Norman won the Open at Royal St. George’s in 1993, Smith is the first Australian to do it. Because of his Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which has offered millions to entice players like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, major champions who finished in the top 10, Norman was urged not to come this year – there was no indication he was returning.
However, Smith and that putter, which passed every test, owned the day.
McIlroy was playing methodical golf; his lone birdie came on the par-5 seventh, which he two-putted from 18 feet. Viktor Hovland, who was tied with Rory McIlroy going into the final round, had no impact. He finished with a score of 74 and didn’t make his first birdie until the 12th hole.
Smith’s run on the back nine is now a legendary chapter in Open lore.
On the short 10th, he made a clever pitch to 5 feet for a birdie. He holed a 15-foot birdie from a back pin on the par-3 11th by taking a risk. He then birdied the following two holes from almost the same distance. A putt from 90 feet on the par-5 14th, over a sizable mound, and down the slope to tap-in range, his fifth consecutive successful attempt, gave him the lead for the first time.
McIlroy was unable to catch up. He had excellent lag putting. Too bad h e didn’t need that. Smith, whose one missed shot presented him with his largest obstacle, offered him no assistance.
On the seventeenth hole, the Road Hole bunker stood between him and the flag. He rolled in another putt, this time for par to maintain his lead, using his putter to ride over the right edge of the bunker and onto the green, which was 10 feet away.
In his Open debut, Young had his opportunities. On the fifteenth hole, he missed a 6-foot putt with a foot or so of break. On the following hole, he missed the mark with his wedge. He hit a flawless drive and approach to the par-3 17th hole, but he missed another opportunity for a birdie.
When he did produce, he only received a 65 and the silver medal. The PGA Tour rookie missed a playoff at the PGA Championship by one stroke and made his best putt at St. Andrews too late in the year’s two majors.
After Smith’s final birdie, the engraver started work on the claret jug, which was first given to the St. Andrews champion in 1873. This drab, old town has a rich history, and Smith has now played a significant role in it.
Original article posted on cbssports.com
Photo posted on: foxnews.com