Down the stretch for Smith
How Cameron Smith surged at St. Andrews and stole the show from Rory McIlroy at The Open
Out of the turn emerged the winner of the 150th Open.
While the whole of St. Andrews was following Rory McIlroy, Cameron Smith, a group ahead, strung together a run of five birdies in a row to leap to the top of the leaderboard through 14 holes. An hour or so later, Smith’s name was being carved into the Claret Jug.
He never blinked once Sunday. The first time he looked slightly rattled was when he held the trophy.
“What a week — I’m going to fall apart here I know,” he said.
But if there was one thing he never did over these past four days, it was crumble, despite a difficult Saturday.
A day before he was announced as Champion Golfer of the Year, Smith was weighing up where it had all gone wrong. He’d carded a round of 73. He looked dejected. He talked of how the golfing gods had gone against him. He regretted how he had attacked the 13th with gusto, instead of playing it carefully — and walked away with double bogey.
The optimism we saw from him in the first two rounds had momentarily ebbed away, 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 lost hope — far from it.
“I think I was really frustrated [Saturday] with how the round went,” he said. “I just really put it down to links golf. So I shrugged it off pretty good. I really didn’t dwell on it too much.”
On Sunday, Smith started dancing again, with the Australian support behind him. With the focus elsewhere — mostly on McIlroy — he put together another flawless round just like he did on Friday, shooting 8-under 64 to gate-crash what was meant to be McIlroy’s coronation.
Once Smith had birdied the last hole, he had a 2-shot lead over McIlroy. He walked off to sign his scorecard as the crowd all flocked to the fairway praying for a miracle. But the minute McIlroy’s drive came up short of the green, and his attempt to hole out for an eagle to force a playoff slipped past, Smith emerged from the hut as the winner of golf’s oldest championship. He hugged his caddie and then looked a little lost.
“I don’t have any family here,” he said. “I’ve got all my team here.”
The week of travel was too much of an effort for his father.
“My dad was actually meant to come over, and he pulled out in the last minute,” Smith said. “I had a quick chat with him before. He’s kicking himself now.”
It’s fitting that the 150th edition of The Open played out like the first back 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 this before — like Stewart Cink getting past the darling of the Turnberry crowd, Tom Watson, in 2009. But this should be remembered for Smith’s remarkable weekend and not McIlroy’s near miss. We should look past the romance of what a McIlroy win would’ve meant and focus on Smith’s incredible performance.
Make no mistake about this: Smith deserved to win. The way he negotiated the course 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 out gave him a 5-footer for birdie. On the 11th and 12th he holed out from 16 feet and 11 feet, respectively.
But it was how he navigated the 13th that led him to believe he was going to win the championship. That was his nemesis Saturday. On Sunday, he found the fairway, and then hit a beautiful approach shot from 184 yards to leave him with an 18-foot birdie putt. That one went in, too.
“I think my second shot into 13 was really when I thought that we can win this thing,” he said. “To hit that shot in there, or the two shots, the drive and the second shot, were two of the best all week. For that to go in, I think, that was it for me.”
And then on the 14th he found himself off the back of the green. He turned to the putter, which left him a 5-footer to make it five birdies in row.
“I knew I just had to be patient,” he said. “I felt good all day, and those putts just started going in on that back nine and just got a lot of momentum going.”
If that run of birdies put him in position, it was the way he approached the 17th that arguably won it for him. The infamous Road Hole has ruined hopes. On Sunday, Smith found himself in a spot of bother, finding himself between that famous, dreaded bunker and the green. But he worked his way around it to save par.
His 20 under tied for the best score at a major. He became the fifth golfer to win the Players and a major in the same year, joining TigerWoods, JackNicklaus, MartinKaymer and HalSutton. But realizing the company he now keeps can wait. He said his first priority is to see how many beers he can fit into the Claret Jug.
At this Open, he has spoken about how he’s binging the television series “Peaky Blinders” and “State of Origin.” He has also been taking his bike out for a spin every morning around the coast to get his legs working. It has all helped him stay calm and ready for the championship-winning moments that he eased through Sunday.
But having won, his first emotion was relief.
“I feel I can breathe,” he said soon after.
McIlroy will regroup, but this will hurt. The hotel room he and his family are staying in overlooks the 18th. Every morning he looked out and dreamt of being atop that yellow leaderboard above the grandstand.
“At the start of the day, it was at the top, but at the start of [Monday], it won’t be,” he said. “Of course you have to let yourself — you’ve got to let yourself dream. You’ve got to let yourself think about it and what it would be like. But once I was on the golf course, it was just task at hand and trying to play the best golf I possibly could. I’ve got a bit of time to rest and recover and try to take the positives, learn from the negatives, and move on.”
McIlroy will have further attempts to end the eight-year wait for his fifth major, but Smith will be enjoying the feeling of winning his first.
Smith’s next challenge is to see if he can stay awake beyond 10 local time this evening. He says he’ll try to drink 20 or so Claret Jugs’ worth of beer even though he is exhausted. The last few days have taken it out of him. The magnitude of what he has achieved hasn’t yet hit home.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be too long before I got one of these,” he said. “I’ve knocked on the door, I think, maybe one too many times now. So it’s nice to get it done.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t think it will for a few weeks. Yeah, it’s just unreal.”
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Gearing up for THE OPEN 2022
The Open will draw a record attendance of 290,000 people at St Andrews in Scotland this year, according to organizers.
The attendance will break the previous record set in 2000 when Tiger Woods won the tournament in front of 239,000 spectators.
“The news that this will be the largest Championship ever staged is a phenomenal feat and reminds us of the enduring appeal of golf,” said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Organizers said they had received more than 1.3 million applications in the ticket ballot, which led to the highest number of tickets being issued to fans.
When is it?
The 150th edition of The Open will take place from July 10-17 at the Old Course, St Andrews.
What time will it start?
The early starters will be due out around 6am for the first round, although confirmed tee times will be released closer to the event.
What TV channel is it on?
The 150th Open will be shown live on Sky Sports. Alternatively, bookmark this page and follow Telegraph Sport’s live coverage of all four days.
Tiger Woods has confirmed he pulled out of the US Open in an effort to be fit for the Open at St Andrews.
He sat out the US Open at Brookline – which was won by Matt Fitzpatrick – but hopes taking a break will allow him to meet his playing commitments at both the JP McManus Pro-Am in Limerick on July 4-5 and at St Andrews, with the Open getting under way on July 10.
“I previously informed the USGA that I will not be competing in the US Open as my body needs more time to get stronger for major championship golf,” Woods posted on Twitter.
What happened last year?
Collin Morikawa held off a late surge from Jordan Spieth to win at Royal St George’s, with the imperious American finishing 15-under.
Telegraph Sport’s golf correspondent James Corrigan described Morikawa as “unbreakable, unmatchable and unbelievable” after he added the Open Championship to the US PGA title he collected in 2020.
If anyone is any doubt about the class of this Californian, then consider that he only turned pro in June 2019 and this was only his eight major – and only Bobby Jones has won two quicker.
What are the latest odds?
Rory McIlroy 10/1
McIlroy shot a nine-under 63 in the first round of the 2010 Open at St Andrews, before being buffeted by high winds on Friday. His length off the tee makes the Old Course a good match, and McIlroy is enjoying a very consistent 2022. The Northern Irishman ranks first for Strokes Gained Tee to Green on the PGA Tour this season, recently won in Canada and has finished in the top eight at all three majors this season. Just one Claret Jug to his name, won at a receptive Hoylake in 2014 where The Open returns next year.
Jon Rahm 11/1
Last year’s US Open champion has had a fairly quiet season despite a victory in Mexico, bristling at suggestions his putting has let him down. His ball-striking numbers remain top of the class, and is warming to The Open with finishes of T-11 and T-3 in his last two outings. Was prominent in the US Open at Brookline before fading slightly on the final day. Will be well aware that Spaniard Seve Ballesteros claimed one of his three Opens at St Andrews.
Justin Thomas 12/1
Has played stellar golf in 2022 with eight top 10 finishes, including winning his second major at the US PGA Championship in May. His iron play is superb, though his putting can be streaky and the odd destructive drive lurks. No great Open form, but is regarded as a good wind player who can flight his approach shots multiple ways.
Scottie Scheffler 14/1
No surprises to see the World No 1 and Masters champion so prominent. Has only made one Open appearance, but that produced a T-8 finish at the quirky Royal St George’s last year which bodes well. No significant weaknesses when on song. Scheffler was understandably quiet in the weeks after Augusta but has recorded runner-up finishes at Colonial and the US Open at Brookline.
Collin Morikawa 18/1
The defending champion after a stunning performance at Sandwich, Morikawa has endured an underwhelming year in which his short game has not been up to scratch. That enviable iron play remains a strength though, with top-five finishes at the Masters and US Open evidence he can be a big danger on the toughest layouts. St Andrews might not be that penal, though.
Matt Fitzpatrick 20/1
His US Open triumph may have been a surprise to casual observers but the Englishman has played superb golf all year, ranking in the top 25 for all Strokes Gained categories on the PGA Tour. Improved distance and running links fairways should not make length a problem, and his chipping and putting is excellent. Like Morikawa, might prefer a more exacting test than a St Andrews course that will yield birdies, weather permitting.