Street. Andrews, Scotland – All this year in golf, at the Masters, the PGA Championship and then the US Open, Rory McIlroy looked ready to win again and put an end to an era that has probably left him without a major tournament win since 2014.
He would fall short every time, and on Sundays at St. Andrews would be no different in the end despite all the ensuing roars from the tee to the green around the old track.
Cameron Smith and his racket proved a lot. Smith, the weak-mustache and mullet Australian, has a retro vibe, and has often made his way with the historic track, digging bird after bird after bird after bird after bird (yes, five in a row) on his back nine despite the pressure of trying to win first specialty.
Smith, the 28-year-old from steamy Brisbane, Queensland, became the first Australian to win the British Open since Greg Norman in 1993 and the first Australian man to win any major tournament since Jason Day won the PGA Championship in 2015.
start at no. 10, Smith, who started the day at 12 below par, flew five holes in a row, while McIlroy’s fly position often was short, his slimming advantage then disappearing. In turn, one month after his absence from the US Open, Smith, the world number one. 6, he found his way into history on a claret jug.
Smith showed much more precision than emotion during his last round climb on a quiet Old Course, but then, he learned some tough lessons in the majors with four spots in the top five, including a tie for third place at the 2022 Masters and a tie . For the second time there in 2020. He won the Players Championship in March, his second PGA Tour win this season.
But with an impressive final round of 64 on Sunday, Smith broke through an iconic spot. The Old Course isn’t the toughest spot in the Open Championship, but it holds its own for inspiration.
Smith’s total score of 20 under average set a British Open record 268 at St. Andrews, surpassing Tiger Woods’ 19-point score when he won the Open Championship here in 2000.
But Woods, then at his prime, won by eight strokes, turning the final round into a parade. Smith’s victory came with more commentary. With his impressive setting and calm demeanor, he led the championship after two rounds, but then fell four shots off the lead by 1 over par 73 on Saturday, a round that included a double bogey in the fourth inning 13 when he went for an ill-advised second shot from the edge of the vault.
By Saturday night McIlroy had the momentum, sharing his four-shot lead with Victor Hovland, and by Sunday, he heard nothing but positive reinforcement from the record crowd at the old court.
“I was born for this Rory! Come on!” A Scottish fan shrieked as McIlroy headed toward the 10th tee.
McIlroy, who was born in Northern Ireland and played for Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics, won the British Open, lifting the claret pitcher in 2014 at Royal Liverpool. At the time, he seemed invincible. But he missed the World Open the following year, the last time he was contested at St. Andrews, due to an injury, faced years of disappointments. Between Royal Liverpool and Sunday, he finished in the top ten in 16 of the 29 major tournaments he has participated in.
McIlroy, 33, started this open game with a score of 66 on Thursday, followed by another 68 and 66 that pushed him into the final pairing on Sunday with Hovland, who was trying to become the first Norwegian man to win a major.
“I’m playing well, I’m in good shape, and my confidence in my game is as high as it has been for a long time,” McIlroy said before the tournament started. “I can’t go in here thinking this might be my time. I just have to go out and play a really good tournament. I have to do four good rounds together and hopefully at the end of the week, that’s good enough to win.”
Instead, he was good enough for third as Cameron Young of the USA finished with an eagle on the 18th hole that put him very briefly in a tie with his playing partner, Smith, at the age of 19.
But Smith had already put his second shot at Bar 4 18 just three feet from the hole.
“Cameron wouldn’t have missed it,” said Young, who watched Smith drain so much pressure during the overcast afternoon.
Young’s hunch was correct. Smith calmly centered and hit the ball into the cup to break the lead at 20 under. McIlroy’s last chance to force a playoff was to make an eagle at the age of 18, which Young had just proven drivable.
But McIlroy’s drive, like his run, came up short, and when he failed to break through with his second shot, Smith was the 150th British Open champion with his name engraved – hurriedly – on the claret jug.
“All the hard work we’ve done over the past two years is really paying off,” Smith told his team. “And that definitely makes it worth it.”
But Smith, after reconstituting himself, made it clear that he intended to use the claret well too, though not for the time being for the claret.
“I’ll definitely find out how many beers are suitable for this thing, that’s for sure,” he said.