A new man has taken up residence at the Home of Golf. Cameron Smith stormed back from as many as three down on Sunday to claim his first major win at the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews.
In a brilliant final-round performance, Smith (20-under) recorded the lowest Sunday score ever for a winner at St. Andrews, a bogey-free 64 that vaulted him past the prohibitive hometown favorite, Rory McIlroy.
Smith entered the day three back of McIlroy after a disappointing round in the final pairing on Saturday, but shot out of a cannon in the penultimate group on Sunday. After birdies on the second and fifth, the 28-year-old Australian made five straight down the back nine, a stretch that vaulted him into the lead and, eventually, won him the tournament.
“I knew if I could get it somewhere within, 15-25 feet, I’d have a chance,” Smith said afterward. “Luckily, a few went in.”
While McIlroy faltered through the easy stretch from 10-14, Smith went on a scoring bonanza. Smith needed just six putts to hole five straight birdies on the ‘outer loop’, which pushed him into a one-stroke lead he never relinquished.
Comparatively, McIlroy played the stretch at just one-under, needing 10 putts to get through the easiest stretch on the course. McIlroy also played a bogey-free round on Sunday, but a par on the 14th — a short par-5 that played as the third-easiest on the course all week — sunk his chances of catching Smith.
Smith’s approach on the famed Road Hole 17th nearly unseated his efforts. He hit his second shot just short of the green, his ball rappelling into the valley just shy of the massive Road Hole bunker. Rather than chip over the face of the bunker, Smith putted around it, leaving a testy 15-footer for par. But that was no matter. His par putt fell into the side of the hole for an all-world four, preserving the lead.
On the 18th, Smith again flirted with disaster when his drive dribbled just right of the Valley of Sin. He faced a long, testing eagle putt over a dangerous ridge. But his putter bailed him out again, with two simple putts paving the way for a tournament-clinching birdie.
Indeed, Sunday would come down to putting. While Smith drained clutch putt after clutch putt, McIlroy burned edge after edge, the most damning of which coming on the 17th, when a 15-foot birdie effort missed just wide. McIlroy made just two birdies on Sunday, the last of which coming on the 10th green. But it was the eight-hole birdie-less stretch between 11 and 18 that proved the difference. Though Sunday at St. Andrews was McIlroy’s nearest miss yet, his major-less streak reached eight years with the loss.
With the victory, Smith becomes the 30th winner of the Open at St. Andrews. He joins Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods to earn major championship victories at the Old Course in the 21st Century.