Cameron Smith wins the 150th British Open at St Andrews


Cameron Smith wins the 150th British Open at St Andrews

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Throughout the golf year, at the Masters Tournament, the PGA Championship and then the US Open, Rory McIlroy seemed poised to win again and end the era that had left him unlikely without a major tournament win since 2014.

He failed every time and, despite all the roar that followed him from tee to green around the Old Course, Sunday at St Andrews would ultimately be no different.

Cameron Smith and his putter proved too much. Smith, an Aussie with a fine mustache and mullet, has a retro vibe, and he often prevailed on the historic course, despite it all, posting birdie after birdie after birdie after birdie after birdie (yes, five in a row) on the Back nine caved in the pressure that comes with trying to win their first major.

Smith, a 28-year-old from Brisbane in steamy Queensland, became the first Australian to win the British Open since Greg Norman in 1993 and the first Australian to win a major since Jason Day won the PGA Championship in 2015.

Starting at No. 10, Smith, who started the day 12 under par, birdieed five straight holes while McIlroy’s birdie putts came up short too often, his advantage diminished and then vanished. A month after missing the cut at the US Open, world No. 6 Smith found his way into claret pitcher history.

Smith showed much more precision than emotion during his final-lap surge on the calmed Old Course, but then he learned some hard lessons at the Majors with four top-five finishes, including a tie for third place at the 2022 Masters and a tie for second there in 2020. He won the Players Championship in March, his second PGA Tour win of the season.

But with his remarkable final round 64 on Sunday, Smith broke through at an iconic point. The Old Course is far from the toughest venue in the Open Championship, but it retains its power to inspire.

Smith’s 20-under par total of 268 set a record for a British Open at St Andrews and surpassed Tiger Woods’s 19-under when he won the Open here in 2000.

But Woods, then in his prime, won by eight strokes and turned the final round into a procession. Smith’s win came with much more excitement. With his brilliant putting and calm demeanor, he led the tournament after two rounds, but then fell four strokes short of the lead on Saturday with a 1-over-par 73, a round that included a double bogey on par-13. 4 included when he went for an imprudent second shot from the bunker edge.

McIlroy had the momentum on Saturday night, sharing a four-stroke lead with Viktor Hovland, and on Sunday he heard nothing but positive confirmation from the record crowd on the Old Course.

“You were born for this Rory! Come on!” yelled a Scottish fan as McIlroy made his way to the 10th tee.

McIlroy, who was born in Northern Ireland and represented Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics, has won a British Open and lifted the claret mug at Royal Liverpool in 2014. At the time he seemed invincible. But he missed the next year’s Open, the last to be played at St Andrews, through injury and endured years of disappointment. Between Royal Liverpool and Sunday, he finished in the top 10 in 16 of the 29 major tournaments he competed in.

McIlroy, 33, started Thursday’s Open with a 66 followed by a 68 and another 66 that propelled him into Sunday’s final pairing with Hovland, who was attempting to become the first Norwegian to win a major championship.

“I’m playing well, I’m in good shape, my confidence in my game is higher than it’s been in a long time,” McIlroy said before the tournament started. “I can’t walk in here thinking this might be my time. I just have to go out there and play a really good tournament. I have to string together four good laps and hopefully at the end of the week that will be enough to win.”

Instead, it was only enough for third place when Cameron Young of the United States finished with an eagle on the 18th hole, giving him a brief lead with playing partner Smith at 19 under.

But Smith had already placed his second shot on the par 4, 18th, just three feet from the hole.

“Cameron didn’t want to miss that,” said Young, who watched Smith hit so many pressure putts during the overcast afternoon.

Young’s guess was correct. Positioning himself calmly, Smith swiped the ball into the cup to retake the lead at 20 under. McIlroy’s last chance to force a playoff was to make an eagle on 18 that Young had just proved was drivable.

But McIlroy’s drive, like his round, fell short and when he failed to hole his second shot, Smith was the 150th British Open champion with his name engraved – in a hurry – on the burgundy pitcher.

“All the hard work that we’ve put in over the past few years is really starting to pay off,” Smith said to his team, holding the trophy in his hands and the tears beginning to flow. “And this one is definitely worth it.”

But Smith, after reuniting, made it clear that he intended to put the red wine pitcher to good use, though not for red wine at the moment.

“I’m definitely going to find out how many beers fit in this thing, that’s for sure,” he said.

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