Adam Scott has emphatically backed Cameron Smith to defend his Open Championship title this week at Royal Liverpool.

The former Masters champion has played several practice rounds with Smith at Royal Liverpool and says the 29-year-old Queenslander has even more swagger than he did last year.

In 2022, Smith won five times globally. His three PGA Tour wins included a breakthrough major at the 150th Open at St Andrews, when he overcame a four-shot deficit to Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland to win by one shot. Smith fired a closing 64 which featured a back nine of 30, the lowest ever closing nine by an Open champion.

The 43-year-old Scott, a long-time friend and mentor to Smith, believes he could become the first person since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to successfully defend an Open.

“There’s no doubt about it; Cam is the defending champion,” Scott said. “It was only 12 months ago that he won the thing. And he’s played some golf in between as well.”

Scott pointed to Smith’s career-best results in the past two majors – a fourth at the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club in June and a tie for ninth at the PGA Championship in May – as evidence. Smith also won LIV Golf London two weeks ago for his second title on his new league since joining in September.

“Cam finished fourth at the US Open and he’s gaining good form,” Scott said. “He won [LIV] a couple of weeks ago, so there’s no doubt he’s confident. Maybe more confident than last year.”

HOYLAKE, ENGLAND – JULY 17: Adam Scott and Cameron Smith of Australia speak during a practice round prior to The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 17, 2023 in Hoylake, England. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Smith himself says he feels like a more complete player than the 2022 Open, when his ball-striking was solid and his putting sensational. In the second round at St Andrews, Smith broke a PGA Tour record for total feet of putts made in one round (255). The world No.7 has worked hard on sharpening his sometimes wayward driver, as well as his long irons, with long-time coach Grant Field.

“I think I’m actually a better golfer now than what I was last year,” Smith said. “I think the [facets] I had to clean up are progressing. It’s still a little bit of a work in progress. My 5-iron and up has always been a bit of a struggle for me, and that’s an area of the game we’ve worked probably harder than we have on in the past. I feel like my game is right there. It just all has to come together. I think the first round at Centurion [LIV London] a couple of weeks ago was the first time where I felt like it had all come together, and then the driver, again, wasn’t my best friend on the weekend there but I scratched out a win.”

Smith said Hoylake’s severe green surrounds played into his hands as owning one the best short games in professional golf.

“The greens out here I think are probably a little bit flatter than maybe some other greens we’ve played at the Open, but the punishment for missing the green around here is I think maybe a little bit worse in some cases,” he said.

That’s all to say Scott thinks Smith will be in contention come the back nine on Sunday, he just hopes he’s in the mix with the mullet-wearing Brisbane boy.

“I’d be happy to go toe to toe with anyone, just as long as I’m in there [with a chance],” Scott laughed.