Cameron Smith hero moment goes sour at Open Championship
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Written by Ben Everill @BEverillPGATOUR
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Cameron Smith is nothing if not confident but the bravado that helped him win the PLAYERS Championship might have cost the Australian his chance at the Claret Jug during the third round of the 150th Open Championship.
Overnight leader Smith was already having a round to forget at the Old Course when his tee shot on the par-4 13th hole took an unfortunate hop, skip and roll towards one of the many bunkers hidden around the old links.
Bunkers at St. Andrews are almost always an immediate penalty where players have to pitch out sideways, or even backwards, but Smith’s Titleist actually pulled up just short of finding the sand.
After a wild 20 minutes he was left wishing his ball had found its way into the bunker as a costly decision, and a resulting mistake and double bogey, helped turn his two-shot overnight lead into a four-shot deficit headed to Sunday.
With his ball so close to the edge of the bunker, Smith was left standing inside the sunken sand trap with the ball closer to his midriff than his feet. But rather than take his medicine and pitch the ball a few yards away from trouble, he decided to attempt a miraculous shot.
Despite mountains of thick gorse bush between his ball and the putting surface – which sat some 150-odd yards away (it was a solid 183-yards still left to the pin) – Smith thought he could baseball style slap his ball up towards, or onto, the huge double green.
“You can’t play that ball to the green at all,” former major winner now analyst Paul Azinger said in commentary after seeing the tee shot come to rest.
“You don’t practice this and he’s risking really his whole championship on a shot he never practices. That’s just a crazy shot… I don’t understand it.”
But Smith thought differently. This is the same player who took near dead-aim at the par-3 17th island green at TPC Sawgrass earlier this year in the final round to separate himself from the pack and win THE PLAYERS.
“I was just trying to hit it up over the stuff somewhere left of the pin. There was so much room up there and I thought I could do it,” Smith explained.
But his contact was heavy and he heeled the shot low and left, right into a gorse bush just 65 yards away.
“I just miss hit it… it was a hard swing,” Smith added. “Just one of those days unfortunately. The golfing gods weren’t with me today.”
It flew in the face of Smith’s comments a day earlier when he was praising his patience over the opening two rounds. He even flagged it as the key to the weekend.
“Being smart out there is definitely going to be the key to staying at the top of the leaderboard,” Smith said Friday night.
“Just being patient… It's very easy to just keep going, getting on the front foot and maybe trying to hit some shots that are a little bit too aggressive.”
It now seems a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Smith muscled his third shot 57-yards out of the bush before hitting his fourth from the long heather to 36-feet where he was unable to save bogey.
A rebound birdie on the 14th hole salvaged something back but he finished the round with a 1-over 73, one of just two players in the top 24 (Tyrrell Hatton) who were not under par during a very scorable moving day.
It left Smith four shots behind leaders Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland who posted a pair of 6-under 66s in the group right in front of him.
The whole exchange, plus the fact he made just 47-feet, 1-inch worth of putts a day after making an unofficial PGA TOUR record 255-feet of putts, had Smith fired up to atone.
“I felt as though I hit a lot of good putts just nothing was really dropping and quite the opposite to the first couple of days which is pretty hard to take on the chin,” he said.
“It’s quite frustrating. It’s always hard to back up a good round but to have one like that was definitely frustrating and it will definitely motivate me tomorrow.”