Cameron Smith did not even blink on his way to victory at The Open in St. Andrews


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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland. Cameron Smith just conceded his 36-hole lead at The 150th Open. It’s time for his caddy, Sam Pinfold, to step in and help turn the tide.

When Pinfold finished, Smith smiled at his good friend and, without missing a beat, replied, “Three or four years ago…don’t worry. … We still had to give them a head start.”

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That’s the confidence of a young Australian who posted a staggering 64 wins at The Open on Sunday, becoming the fifth Aussie to win a Claret Jug and the first since 1993. His first major triumph comes on top of wins earlier this year at THE PLAYERS and Sentry. Tournament of Champions. He moved to No. 2 in both the FedExCup and the world rankings for the year when he became the only player other than Jack Nicklaus in 1978 to win THE PLAYERS and The Open that same year. In his win at Sentry in January, Smith set the TOUR record for the lowest score against par, scoring 34 short. At St. Andrews, he equaled that mark for the majors and recorded the lowest score ever scored at the St. Andrews Open, 20 out of 268. Open champion.

But back to Smith’s joke. It was a flippant answer. But there was some wisdom hidden in him. Smith – with all due respect – looks like a mongrel who fights for the first bone he sees in a month. He is an absolute outsider, determined to prove that the doubters are wrong.

Since Sunday, four shots from the lead have been enough of a challenge. The fact that one of the leaders was Rory McIlroy, the great hope of Britain, whom the crowds were eager to crown, was a red rag to the bull.

Smith hails from Queensland, a northeastern Australian state known for its beautiful beaches, the Great Barrier Reef and uncompromising resilience. That determination was born out of Smith’s favorite sport besides golf, rugby, where the Queensland Maroons face strong New South Wales Blues three times a year in an epic and brutal series of games called State of Origin. It’s tribal.

Queensland is known for often winning against all odds. He has less talent, but he somehow towers over himself when he puts on a jersey. One State of Origin game came on the eve of The Open, and Smith insisted on playing his final nine-hole practice round early in the morning so he could stream the match on his St. Andrews phone.

The Maroons, who lost three key players to COVID and injuries, were the underdogs. Then, in a hectic start to the game, they lost two more to concussions. Despite obstacles, they won 22-12. Pinfold confirmed that Smith “got a lot out of it”.

“I never doubt,” Smith joked about the match at a pre-tournament press conference. “This is just another example of the Queensland spirit. I’ll definitely think about it this week.”

Outsider appeared on Sunday at the Old Field. Smith scripted the maroon shirt ahead of his attempt to pursue a local favorite.

After a solid 34 points in the top nine, Smith looked up to see that he had only beaten McIlroy once. It’s time to calm down or shut up.

“We need to try and win. This is what we are all here to do. I really needed to do something,” said Smith, whose gallery included former tennis star Ash Barty and two-time Moto GP champion Casey Stoner.

So Smith got to work. He almost passed 10th with a par-4 to make the first of five consecutive birdies that put him one ahead of McIlroy. The best came in at 13th, a hole that nearly killed him the day before.

“These guys are great players. They weren’t going to give it to me. I had to accept it,” Smith added. “It’s good that I fell behind. My thinking would have been a little different, especially in that nine if I had been ahead.”

“My second shot at 13 was really when I thought we could win this case.”

Pinfold was also heavily criticized for Saturday’s double bogey on the 13th. Many speculated that he should have called Smith off for a risky hit when he tried to hit the ball while standing in a bunker with the ball over his feet. This shot hit the gorse bushes, resulting in a double horror.

“You won’t mess with a confident player with his skill level,” Pinfold explained. “I’m just so proud of him. His game plan was amazing; he was just very sure of himself, and he had so much faith that it made my job easier.

“I don’t have to think about the second option, it’s just the best shot, the best option, then point, shoot and go. He just has the guts and courage to stand up and do it.”

Another such moment happened on Sunday at the infamous Road Hole, considered the toughest on the TOUR every time The Open comes to St. Andrews. Smith’s approach proved to be short, and the hole’s famous bunker on the green got between his ball and his target. Smith calmly sent his ball up the slope to the edge of the trap and then dug in a 10-foot par-putt.

When he cold-bloodedly knocked down the 20th-ball last, one shot better than playing partner Cameron Young, only McIlroy’s eagle could beat him. But the four-time top winner failed to contribute short of the green, and victory was secured.

“I feel like I can’t breathe,” he said. “These last four or five holes here are tough, especially with left winds. I’m just really proud of how I gave it my all today and managed to do it.”

“Winning the Open Championship in itself is likely to be the pinnacle of a golfer’s career. To do it around St. Andrews, I think, is just incredible. This place is so cool.”

The birdie run on the first five holes of the far nine was similar to how he won THE PLAYERS earlier this year. En route to that victory, he hit the first four holes of nine TPC Sawgrass defensemen.

“He loves to fight,” Pinfold said. “Make him fight three or four back and he’ll step up his game and go for it.”

Another celebration is expected, similar to the one that followed his PLAYERS win.

“I’ll definitely find out how many bottles of beer will fit in this thing,” he said of the Claret pitcher. “I’ll guess two, two cans of beer. … I will probably have about 20 Claret jugs.”

He, of course, earned.

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