As The Open headed into the back nine on Sunday at St. Andrews, the engraver prepared to etch Rory McIlroy’s name on the Claret Jug. McIlroy stood at 17 under par, having opened up a 3 shot lead over young Victor Hoveland, and he was in complete control of his game. Rory had already recorded a runner-up at the Masters, T8 at the PGA and a T5 at the U.S. Open—and it seemed a certainty that his long awaited fifth major championship was at hand.
Anything can happen, however, on the back-nine of an Open Championship on Sunday, particularly at St. Andrews.
When a thunderous cheer suddenly erupted from the 11th green, the name to be inscribed on the oldest Trophy in golf would have to wait a bit. Cameron Smith had just rolled in another putt, making consecutive birdies to get within 2 shots of McIlroy. Rory was on cruise control, bombing drives and hitting greens—but making no putts (his only birdie on the back nine came when he drove the green on 10, and 2-putted for a 3). Cam Smith, on the other hand, was making everything. At the 12th hole he drove it to the very front of the green, leaving a difficult eagle putt from over 70 feet—and drained an 11-footer for birdie to pull within 1 shot of Rory. On the 13th, Cam rolled in another birdie, this time from nearly 20-feet, to pull even with McIlroy at 18 under par. And on the Par 5 14th hole Smith completed a stretch of 5 consecutive birdie’s by knocking in a 5-footer that brought him to 19 under par, and the outright lead.
The championship hung in the balance as Smith reached number 17, the famous “Road Hole,” still clinging to a 1 shot lead. A poor approach left him just under the steep faced bunker guarding the front left of the green, and the pin was tucked just behind it. With brilliant touch and steel nerve Cam pulled the putter once again, and using the contour surrounding the bunker, was able to give himself an opportunity to save par from 10 feet—and then calmly knocked it in.
The 18th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews is reachable with a well-struck tee shot, and one of the most exciting finishing holes in golf. While all eyes were on Rory, however, a powerful young phenom, 25-year-old Cameron Young, had quietly moved back into contention, pulling within 2 shots of Smith’s lead—and they were playing together in the second to last pairing.
After Smith hit a solid tee shot just short of the green, Young unleashed a bomb that settled pin-high with a very makeable eagle opportunity from just 17 feet—a putt that would draw him even with Smith at 19 under and force a playoff. Cam was also fully aware that Rory, still only a shot back at 18 under, was likely to reach the green at 18 and have an opportunity for eagle, or a 2- putt birdie that would move him to 19 under as well.
Facing a 75-foot putt up the slope with a sharp right to left break and maximum Open pressure, Cam smoothly rolled his ball to within 3 feet, where he tapped in to finish at 20 under par, a shot ahead of Cameron Young (who indeed made his eagle putt to finish at 19 under). When Rory failed to eagle the last, Cam added his name to the illustrious group who have won The Open on the Old Course, while setting a new scoring record at St. Andrews.
His Open Championship victory is the latest in a breakout year for Cam. He won the Players back in March, and followed that up with a T3 at the Masters, a T13 at the PGA and a T13 at the Memorial. Ranked 7th on Tour in putting, I suppose it should not have been much of a surprise to see him roll it so beautifully at St. Andrews, but when you consider the venue and the pressure of closing at a major, it was a truly spectacular performance.
At 28 years of age, Smith has always carried himself with the confidence and swagger of a PGA Tour veteran. And with 5 Tour wins, including a major championship and Player’s Championship under his belt, Cam is in position to secure a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame—and the putter to make it happen.
At 25-years old, in only his first season on Tour, Cameron Young will be a force on the PGA Tour for many years to come. In addition to his gutsy runner-up finish at The Open, Young recorded a T3 at the PGA back in May, runner-up finishes at The Genesis and Wells Fargo Championships, and T3’s at both the RBC Heritage and Sanderson Farms Championships.
While Young’s primary weapon is the driver (currently ranked 6th in distance from the tee at 318 yards), Cameron is lethal on the greens as well (8th on Tour in putting). That’s a powerhouse combination, and will make him a man to keep an eye on as the season rolls toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The LIV contingent made their presence felt at The Open, erasing a mediocre performance at the U.S Open, and no doubt bringing a smile to Greg Norman’s face. 10 of the 23 LIV players who competed at The Open made the cut, with Dustin Johnson (-13) and Bryson DeChambeau (-12) recording Top 10’s. Abraham Ancer and Sadom Kaewkanjana both finished at -11, among the Top 20.
Their play on Sunday was particularly impressive, as both Ancer and Kaewkanjana fired closing rounds of 65, with Bryson carding a 66.
The third LIV event is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ.