Cameron Smith - Ross Kinnard / Getty Images

Bravery pays off for Cameron Smith with most astounding back-nine burst in major history

Cameron Smith - Ross Kinnard / Getty Images

Cameron Smith – Ross Kinnard / Getty Images

On the 10th tee, with the wind at his back and his fate in his hands, Cameron Smith decided he was not going to die of surprise. What happened over the next two hours was probably the best back nine in the history of major championships. A quintuple birdie with an icy putt around the rim of the Road Hole bunker formed a disastrous salvo that Rory McIlroy had no answer for.

It was an object lesson in philosophy needed to seize rewards of this magnitude. While McIlroy fought hard to defend a lead, Smith snatched away the glory with a nervous audacity. “It’s probably a good thing to be behind in some situations,” he reflected. “It’s very easy to get defensive out there and hit it to 60, 70 feet. You can parse all day, but you’re not going to make a birdie.”

When it was needed most, this brief Australian, who was relaxing in his St Andrews hotel room every night with episodes of Peaky Blinders, discovered his winning instincts, giving McIlroy a display of stern, irresistible talent. carried on with. The only regret was that his father, Des – a printer from suburban Brisbane who started work at 6 a.m. to make sure the young Camerons could squeeze in a few holes each day before tea – was here to see it in the flesh. were not.

Dess had decided, he explained, that it was difficult to justify a 20,000-mile round trip for a week’s worth of golf. But some such weeks end as the spectacle of your son picking up the claret jug with the Auld Gray toon as the background. Perhaps Smith SNR should have looked at the historical piece: just as Klay Nagle won the Centenary Open on this stage in 1960, his young successor ensured that another grand anniversary, the 150th, would fall into Australian hands. “It’s for Oz,” he said on the 18th green, galleries as far as he could see.

    Australia's Kel Nagle hits his T-shot in 15th place, on his way to win the Centenary Championship - Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Australia’s Kel Nagle hits his T-shot in 15th place, on his way to win the Centenary Championship – Bob Thomas/Getty Images

The spectators were toppling over each other to secure a vantage point, some even leaping across the Swilcon Burn to follow McIlroy’s final pairing of 18th place. To that level, Smith had inflicted decisive damage, reaching 20 under par, a record-par total in the majors, courtesy of the devil-may-care spirit that became his trademark.

At the juncture, it looked like the tournament was to be lost to McIlroy. But therein lies the problem: Where McIlroy was conservative, desperate to eliminate any dropped shots from his scorecard, Smith was a man of boldness, attacking every pin and removing every important put.

As he began his homeward half, he knew he had beaten the four-time major champion by three. It seemed too hard to erase the deficit. It was an act of seductive ingenuity in Smith’s mind. Asked before this round how he intended to attack it, he said: “Just try to make a ton of birdies.” He was as good as his word, winging a delicious putt on short par-four at close range for an easy birdie. By the time he put in a 15-footer for two in the dangerous 11th, he had closed the gap to two.

Once Smith gets his limit on the greens, he has regrets about it. He spends 20 minutes every day in front of the mirror to complete the same set-up position each time. The benefit of such diligence was clear to see on the Old Course, as Smith adapted to the human metronome. Wrestling in another putt on 12 feet from 12 feet, he made a roar that McIlroy, a hole behind, heard everything clearly. With the birdie put falling for the fourth time in a row in 13th place, which he had double-bogeyed 24 hours earlier, the pace swing was unrelenting, but irreversible. His putter was not so hot as it was molten.

Australia's Cameron Smith birdies on the 13th green during the final round of the British Open - AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Australia’s Cameron Smith birdies on the 13th green during the final round of the British Open – AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Even at 616 yards, a 14th is essentially a par-four for someone of Smith’s length. So it was proved, when he went on with his fifth consecutive birdie, a sequence that no one else on the field could manage all day. He had just one more obstacle to negotiate: the dastardly road hole, where a grueling bunker, a shell path, and a dry stone wall waited to derail his charge.

As their approach veered to the left, a nervous groan swept through the crowd, blocking their path with sand. A pitch was fraught with danger: if he caught it a touch too thin, he risked slipping through the green and making a bogey or worse. And so, with amazingly clear-sightedness, he reached for the flat stick, observing weight and direction immaculately to set up the all-important cross putt from 10 feet—which, naturally, he sank to dead center. Gave.

Smith knew, when he made one last drive across the vast expanse of the 18th fairway, that the strike was pure and true. Unrelenting throughout the day, he broke into the widest grin, running at 20-under, even eclipsing Tiger Woods’ 2000 St Andrews record. Here was an Open champion of impeccable pedigree, whose voice trembled with emotion as he delivered his victory speech. ,

Sadly, nothing in the changing landscape of golf comes without an asterisk. The dust settled on what was arguably the most surprising back-nine burst as Smith turned to his press conference over a question on whether he was ready to join the defectors at Saudi-bankrolled LIV golf. “I just won the Open, and you’re asking about that,” he retorted. Let’s say, alas, there was no denial. Even on the day that was one of golf’s most memorable achievements, Smith remained a complex hero.

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