Monday Finish: Smith wins one for Australia
Comeback win over Brendan Steele is first as an individual
January 13, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Cameron Smith's winning highlights from the Sony Open
Sometimes you birdie the first few holes of a tournament, sometimes you bogey them, and sometimes you total the car on the way out of the garage.
That’s what seemingly happened to Cameron Smith at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he opened bogey, triple-bogey in the first round Thursday but immediately began to claw his way back. “I’ve always been quite good at not giving up,” Smith said after winning the Sony on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff against 54-hole leader Brendan Steele.
Smith’s awful start is the worst by a PGA TOUR winner since the 2003 debut of ShotLink.
Chalk up another win for persistence. With his first individual TOUR win, Smith shoots up 35 spots to fifth in the FedExCup. He also gives his fellow Australians, many of them besieged by the worst fires on record, something more pleasant to consider, even if it’s only a brief respite. (Smith and others also donated money to the relief effort. For more on that, click here.)
Welcome to the Monday Finish.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS
1. Smith is feisty. Countryman Marc Leishman calls Smith “a fighter” and “gritty.” Smith calls himself someone who just doesn’t give up. He’s also at his best when playing for a cause bigger than himself. At the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne last month, the cause was the International Team, and Smith beat Justin Thomas in singles after going 3 down through 5. At the Sony, the cause was the Australian relief effort for fires that have ravaged the country. Smith pledged $500 per birdie and $1,000 per eagle, and when he was 4 over for his first two holes in the first round Thursday, he told himself others were going through far worse. For more on Smith and his big win for Australia, click here.
2. He saved himself with the putter. In some ways wise beyond his 26 years, Smith knows that tournament golf is a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. He needed extra holes in his only other TOUR victory, at the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans with partner Jonas Blixt. And at the Sony, where he was behind from the word go, he chipped his way back from a nightmarish first half hour. After starting bogey, triple in the opening round, he was +4.8 Strokes Gained: Putting while carding an even-par 70. That marked the second-best putting round of his TOUR career, and limited the damage of his first two holes.
3. He let Steele come back. “I just had to hang in there,” Smith said. It was the only thing to do in case of a misstep by frontrunner Steele, but that seemed highly unlikely after Steele, 36, holed out from the bunker on 11. A proven winner, he was coming off a third-round 64 and rolling toward victory No. 4. But all was not as it appeared. Steele had by his own admission not played like himself since winning his second straight Safeway Open two seasons ago. He was starting the second year of a two-year exemption, and admits he’d started to think about his status on TOUR after missing the FedExCup Playoffs last season. Sure enough, it all changed quickly, Steele’s bogeys on 13 and 17 and Smith’s clutch birdie at the last closing the last of the gap to create the sudden-death playoff. Smith’s patience and persistence were rewarded.
Wind has dominated 2020. Players talked about getting “gusted” at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the wind blowing their putts off-target at Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Maui. The story was not entirely dissimilar at the Sony at Waialae Country Club, where the wind made anything under par a good score. A 59, like the one Justin Thomas shot in winning in 2017, looked all but impossible. “No one was playing good golf today, it seemed like,” Smith said after Sunday’s round, which was played in less wind but more rain. Still, a few players soldiered on to produce not just good but great golf, considering the conditions. Graeme McDowell made five straight birdies (holes 5-9) to tie his longest consecutive birdies streak on TOUR on the way to a final-round 64 (T4). Lanto Griffin also shot 64 to move 23 spots up the leaderboard, finishing T7 and inching from fourth to third in the FedExCup.
Steele will jump right back into it. It was a tough finish for Steele, who was in his first TOUR playoff. He tried to answer Smith’s laser-like approach to seven feet but instead flew his second shot over the green. His bogey allowed Smith to two-putt for par to win after starting the day three behind. “Obviously super bummed,” Steele said. “Felt like it was kind of mine to win. Just didn’t quite get it figured out and do it at the right time.” On the plus side, his runner-up marked his first top-10 finish in nearly two years. (At FedExCup No. 29, he’s well on his way to improving on his 171st-place finish last season.) What’s more, he was headed to the American Express in Palm Desert, which is so near his boyhood stomping grounds of Idyllwild he calls it his home event. “Have a lot of friends and family support there,” he said, “so I am excited to get there and try to carry some momentum.” For more on Steele’s week, click here.
“I’ve always been quite good at not giving up.” – Cameron Smith, after opening bogey, triple-bogey but fighting back for the win.
“Obviously super-bummed.” – Brendan Steele, who bogeyed 17 and failed to birdie the par-5 18th to fall into the playoff, which he lost with another bogey.
“Deep down inside of me I still know how play in the wind and in bad weather.” – Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who shot a final-round 64 (T4)
“I walked off and I told Sam, ‘I'm more under on 18 than I am for the week.’” – Lanto Griffin (64, T7) on making three eagles and a birdie at the par-5 finishing hole.
The Wyndham Rewards Top 10 is a season-long competition that offers a $10 million bonus for the 10 golfers who end the regular season at the Wyndham Championship inside the top 10 in FedExCup points. The player atop the standings will earn $2 million, with varying payoffs for the others through $500,000 for the 10th place finisher.
Justin Thomas, who won the 2017 FedExCup, remains in pole position despite missing the cut last week, while Brendon Todd lurks just 138 points behind.
Here were the biggest movers from the Sony Open in Hawaii.
This week Last week Player
1 1 Justin Thomas
2 2 Brendon Todd
3 4 Lanto Griffin
4 3 Sebastian Munoz
5 40 Cameron Smith
6 5 Rory McIlroy
7 6 Joaquin Niemann
8 7 Cameron Champ
9 10 Sungjae Im
10 8 Xander Schauffele