Cameron Smith has become an Australian sporting icon after ending a 29-year drought for Australia at the Open Championship. The Queenslander won the 150th edition at St Andrews and secured his first Major title in stunning fashion.
Smith fired an incredible 64 at the Old Course to finish at 20 under, equalling the Open scoring 72-hole record of Henrik Stenson while beating Tiger Woods’ St Andrews record total of 19 under (in 2000). Smith’s playing partner Cameron Young (65) was second at 19 under and overnight co-leader McIlroy (70) was third at 18 under.
Smith’s 30 on the back nine is the lowest score over a closing nine holes by a winner in Open history.
The 28-year-old Smith became the first Australian to win the Open’s historic claret jug since Greg Norman in 1993. Smith is Australia’s first men’s Major winner since Jason Day claimed the 2015 PGA Championship.
Smith was overcome with emotion at the famous Champion Golfer of The Year celebrations on the 18th green.
“I’m going to fall apart here I know it,” an emotional Smith said in his victory speech. “The fans … I had a lot of support out here. Especially the Aussies, you guys really kept me going down there. Seemed like there was a lot of you guys out there and kept me plugging away. This one’s for Australia.”
He also cracked a hilarious joke about his afterparty and drinking out of the claret jug. “I’m definitely going to see how many beers fit in this thing,” he said.
Smith picked up shots at the second and fifth, before a sensational five straight birdies to start the back side. That included a brilliant 2 at the difficult par-3 11th and short par-4 12th. He edged one ahead with a birdie at the par-5 14th.
Clutch par saves at No.15, No.16 and No.17, the latter being the Road Hole where Smith had to putt around its famous greenside bunker, gave Smith a one-shot lead on the 18th tee. He drove the fringe and two-putted for birdie to all but seal victory with McIlroy the group behind. The Northern Irishman needed an eagle to force a playoff with Smith but could only manage par.
Smith became Australia’s fifth Open Champion, Norman (1986 and 1993), Ian Baker Finch (1991), Kel Nagle (1960) and five-time winner Peter Thomson (1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1965). Only Nagle and Thomson won the Open at Andrews.
Smith’s finishing 64 was the lowest final round from an Open champion since Norman (64) at Sandwich in 1993.
McIlroy was the clear crowd favourite all day but cheers for Smith from the Scottish crowds gave world No.6 Smith a spring in his step.
Two-time Moto GP world champion, Australian Casey Stoner, was also among the gallery cheering Smith on walking with Smith’s coach Grant Field.
”I’m just so proud of his effort, he looked so focussed. Winning the Open is something he dreamed of as a kid,” Field told Australian Golf Digest from just outside the ropes.
Six-time Major winner Nick Faldo, whose three Open Championship titles included the 1990 edition at St Andrews, called it a “legendary” round.
“It’s extra special to win it here. Basically, you are defined as different type of champion because you’ve won at St Andrews,” said Faldo, commentating on Sky TV.
“To win here really is the holy grail, especially this landmark one. Everybody will know and remember who won the 150th Open at St Andrews. Congratulations Cam – I’m in shock.
“I’m obviously very proud of that fact (of being a St Andrews Open winner) too. But Cam’s had a hard time with (being away from Australia during) COVID, didn’t see his mum, dad and sister for a couple of years but he’s battled away.
“That’s a legendary round … this man is so gutsy, and had such incredible mental strength to go with a legendary short game. Now he’s a legend with a wedge and a putter in his hand, isn’t he?”
FINAL SCORES FOR AUSTRALIANS AT THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
268 (67-64-73-64): Cameron Smith – winner
278 (72-65-70-71): Adam Scott – tied 15th
278 (74-69-68-67): Anthony Quayle – tied 15th
279 (69-69-73-68): Min Woo Lee – tied 21st
278 (70-68-73-67): Lucas Herbert – tied 15th
284 (72-71-71-70): Jason Scrivener – tied 53rd
284 (68-72-72-72): Brad Kennedy – tied 53rd
Matt Griffin, Marc Leishman, Dimi Papadatos, Jed Morgan – missed cut