How Cameron Smith surged at St. Andrews and stole the show from Rory McIlroy at The Open

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – The round resulted in the winner of the 150th Open.

With all of St Andrews trailing Rory McIlroy, Cameron Smith, a group ahead of him, traveled a streak of five straight birdies to jump through 14 holes to the top of the standings. About an hour later, Smith’s name was carved into the Claret Jug.

He didn’t blink once on Sunday. The first time he looked slightly unnerved was when he was holding the trophy.

“What a week — I’m going to collapse here, I know,” he said.

But if there was one thing he hadn’t done in the last four days, it had collapsed despite a difficult Saturday.

A day before he was named Champion Golfer of the Year, Smith reflected on where it all went wrong. He had carded a round of 73. He looked dejected. He talked about how the golf gods had worked against him. He regretted attacking the 13th with gusto instead of playing it carefully – and walked away with a double bogey.

The optimism we saw from him over the first two laps momentarily evaporated, leaving us with what we thought would be a straight shootout between the overnight leaders – McIlroy and Viktor Hovland – for the championship. But Smith hadn’t given up hope – quite the opposite.

“I think I was really frustrated [Saturday] with the progress of the lap,” he said. “I just put it down to links golf. So I got it pretty well ticked off. I really haven’t thought about it too much.”

Smith resumed dancing on Sunday with the Australian support behind him. With his focus elsewhere – McIlroy mostly – he put together another clean round, just like Friday, and shot 8-under 64 to cap what was to be McIlroy’s crowning glory.

After birding the final hole, Smith had a 2-stroke lead over McIlroy. He walked away to sign his scorecard as the crowd flocked to the fairway and prayed for a miracle. But the minute McIlroy’s drive missed the green and his attempt to hole for an eagle to force a playoff slipped past, Smith emerged from the lodge as the winner of golf’s oldest championship. He hugged his caddy and then looked a bit lost.

“I have no family here,” he said. “I have my whole team here.”

The week-long journey was too tiring for his father.

“My dad was supposed to come over and he pulled out at the last minute,” Smith said. “I spoke to him briefly beforehand.

It is fitting that the 150th edition of The Open played out like the first in 1860. Back then, the home favorite was Old Tom Morris. He knew the course better than anyone. But then Willie Park came through to win the inaugural championship. We’ve seen it before — like Stewart Cink passing Turnberry crowd darling Tom Watson in 2009. But this should be remembered for Smith’s remarkable weekend and not McIlroy’s near miss. We should look beyond the romance of what a McIlroy win would have meant and focus on Smith’s incredible performance.

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Rory McIlroy reflects on his performance at the Open Championship after finishing third.

Make no mistake: Smith deserved the win. The way he handled the course on Sunday was incredible, especially as he had to reset after the disappointment of Saturday’s round.

It all started with the birdie run, each one majestic. His chip on the 10th from 27 yards got him a 5-foot football to birdie. On the 11th and 12th he holed from 16ft and 11ft respectively.

But it was how he navigated 13th that made him believe he was going to win the championship. That was his nemesis on Saturday. On Sunday, he found the fairway and then hit a nice approach shot from 184 yards only to leave with an 18-foot birdie putt. He went in too.

“I think my second shot in 13 was really when I thought we could win this thing,” he said. “Hiting that shot there, or the two shots, the drive and the second shot, were two of the best of the whole week. I think that was it for me.”

And then, on the 14th, he found himself behind the green. He turned to the putter, which left him a 5-foot shot to make five birdies in a row.

“I knew I just had to be patient,” he said. “I felt good all day and those putts were just starting to go in on the back nine and just gained a lot of momentum.”

If that string of birdies got him in position, it was the way he approached 17th that arguably won him over. The infamous Road Hole has dashed all hopes. On Sunday, Smith found himself in a difficult situation when he found himself caught between the famous, dreaded bunker and the green. But he worked his way around it to save Par.

His 20 under tied for best score at a major. He became the fifth golfer to win the Players and a Major in the same year, along with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Martin Kaymer and Hal Sutton. But realizing the company he now maintains can wait. He said his first priority is seeing how many beers he can fit in the Claret Jug.

At this Open he spoke about playing the TV series Peaky Blinders and State of Origin. He also rides his bike along the coast every morning to get his legs moving. All of this has helped him stay calm and ready for the moments winning the championship and relaxing on Sunday.

But after winning, his first feeling was relief.

“I feel like I can breathe,” he said shortly afterwards.

McIlroy will regroup, but it’s going to hurt. The hotel room where he and his family are staying overlooks the 18th. Every morning he would look out and dream of being at the top of the yellow ladder above the grandstand.

“It was at the top at the start of the day, but at the start of the day [Monday], it won’t be,” he said. “Of course you have to allow yourself – you have to let yourself dream. You have to allow yourself to think about it and how it would be. But once I was on the golf course, it was all about playing the best golf I could. I have a bit of time to rest and recover and try to take the positives, learn from the negatives and move on.”

McIlroy will have more attempts to end the eight-year wait for his fifth Major, but Smith will relish the feeling of winning his first.

Smith’s next challenge is to see if he can stay up past 10 local time tonight. He says he’ll try to drink about 20 Claret Jugs worth of beer, though he’s exhausted. The last few days have taken him. The magnitude of what he has achieved has not arrived yet.

“I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got one of these,” he said. “I think I knocked on the door, maybe one too many times now. So it’s nice to have done it.

“It hasn’t really arrived yet. I don’t think it will happen in a few weeks. Yes, it’s just unreal.”

https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34259424/how-cameron-smith-surged-st-andrews-stole-show-rory-mcilroy-open How Cameron Smith surged at St. Andrews and stole the show from Rory McIlroy at The Open

Emma Bowman

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