[Photo: Getty images]

Cameron Smith has warned critics to write him off at their own peril, declaring himself “still in the golf tournament” as the Masters builds towards a grandstand finish.

Smith struck the ball beautifully – hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation – but a frustrating putter left him with an even-par 72 that kept the Queenslander at one under par through three rounds. He trailed 2022 Masters winner and leader, Scottie Scheffler (71, seven under) by six. Two-time major winner Collin Morikawa (69) was six under.

Cameron Davis (73) was the leading Australian at two under. Davis and Smith were the only two in contention, while countrymen Adam Scott (four over), Min Woo Lee (seven over) and Jaon Day (eight over) were well behind.

The 30-year-old Smith, a former world No.2, narrowly missed birdie putts at Nos. 2, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15 and 17.

“I don’t think I hit bad putts, I just couldn’t get the ball in the hole,” Smith said. “It’s just one of those days. There were so many times out there where [leaving a putt] five or ten foot is as close as you can hit it and it’s breaking a foot or two down the hill. I couldn’t quite match up the speed and the line. I feel like it could have been probably a lot better today.”

Although his deficit was six shots, Smith said his hopes were not over. He is no stranger to chasing down leaders in a major. After a similarly frustrating putting display on the third round of of the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews, Smith rallied and overcame a four-shot deficit to Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland to win the 150th Open with a stunning 64.

“I think I’m still in the golf tournament [Masters],” a defiant Smith said after his round. “The way that the golf course is playing, I feel really confident with my ball striking; probably the best I’ve felt in a while.”

Davis raced up the leaderboard with three birdies through nine holes, but stumbled around Amen Corner – dropping four shots in the first four holes of a horror start to the back nine.

“I hung in there quite well. It was playing tough, but I feel pretty proud walking away with one over after a few, it felt like, disasters while I was out there,” Davis said. “I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Today I wasn’t laying up and I was giving it a good crack. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make the right decisions in the moments and come away with a round that’s as good as we can make it.”

Now a major champion, Smith knows patience and waiting for green-lit birdie opportunities is the way to rocket up the famous white leaderboards at Augusta National. Smith tied second at the 2020 Masters and third at the 2022 Masters when he played in the final group with Scheffler.

“It only [takes] one or two [dropped shots] their [leaders’] way and one or two [birdies] my way, and it’s really close,” he said. “You can’t [attack Augusta National] at the moment [with the firm greens and wind]. If you start playing the golf course that way, I have seen where that heads. I’ve been down that road before. I’d like to think I’m a pretty smart golfer. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing, hitting it to 15, 20 feet, and hopefully they go in tomorrow.”

Giving Smith confidence of a round for the ages is how well he is swinging the club. From six shots behind, it is not impossible nor would it set a record. The largest comeback after 54 holes is eight shots (Jack Burke Jr in 1956). “It’s just really solid ball striking,” he said. “I couldn’t have done much more with the irons today.”

Smith is seeking to become the seventh player to win the Open at St Andrews and a Masters title in their careers. Only Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Seve Ballesteros and Zach Johnson have managed.

“I feel like my game’s in a really good spot and I’ve done everything right and [just not much has gone right,” he said.

Maybe it will when it counts – during the Masters final round.