Cameron Smith became the first Australian since Greg Norman to win The Open, and then refused to defect in his compatriot’s Saudi-backed LIV series.
Telegraph Sport understands Norman is fully pursuing the prospect of an Aussie team that will include both Smith and Adam Scott.
Meanwhile, Henrik Stenson is likely to be stripped of his Ryder Cup captaincy as hopes are rising that he too will be joining the Rebels now that the 150th Championship is over at St Andrews.
Smith staged one of the finest back nines in Old Course history to dash the hopes of the home crowd and extend the wait for another Major from Rory McIlroy by nine years.
The Aussie’s 268 majors in four days to go 20-under equals the lowest total with respect to par in history. It was the lowest ever at St Andrews, who finished 19-under in 2000 after beating Tiger Woods’ 269. “This is for Oz,” the 28-year-old later said.
LIV supremo Norman was the last Australian to lift the claret jug in 1993 and Smith did nothing on Sunday night to quell rumors that the rebels might be involved.
He initially said it was “no good” to be asked about the breakaway, which has been an unwanted favor over the past week. “I don’t know, friend,” he eventually replied. “My team around me worries about all those things. I’m here to win golf tournaments.”
Smith’s astonishing 64 came as McIlroy relinquished a two-shot lead in the middle of the final round, which was interrupted by yips at the end of the 70. “The putter got cold on me,” McIlroy said.
The Australian, who had fallen four on pace with 73 in the third round, fired eight birdies – including five in a row from the 10th. American Cameron Young also made a brilliant eagle on 18th in his final 65 to force Smith to pierce the hole by two feet for his final birdie, to force McIlroy to a four-hole play-off. He needed his own eagle.
However, the 33-year-old was unable to create a moment of magic and had to settle for a draw, which meant Smith could celebrate an extraordinary victory at Home of Golf.
“I think winning an Open Championship in itself will probably be a golfer’s highlight in his career. To do that around St. Andrews is incredible,” said the Brisbane-born champ. “This place is great. I love the golf course. I love the city.”
The Australian later committed to keeping his “lucky” mullet, but said the festivities could be significantly less important as none of his family went to St Andrews to join him.
“My dad was actually supposed to come, and he basically pulled out at the last minute,” he said. “I had a quick chat with him before. He’s kicking himself now… I really wish he was here too. It would have been such a great week, even without it, being in the golf house. Dad Love your golf as well. That would have been awesome.”
Crowd favorite McIlroy, who won the 2014 Open at the Royal Liverpool, was complacent in defeat. “I got beaten up by the better guy this week,” he said. “The Twenty Under par round here is really impressive, especially shooting 64 to complete it. I can’t be too disappointed because of how this year has been. I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve had in a long time. It’s just a matter of knocking on the door.
“I’ll be fine, it’s not life and death and I’ll have other chances. This is one that I think I let go but there will be other opportunities. The putter got a little cold today compared to the last three days.” “
Smith had earlier failed to convert the chances of a big win. He finished runner-up at the 2020 Masters and finished third at the Augusta Nationals in April. “It was great to do it the way I did today, come back and really pressurize, stop the putt,” he said. “it was awesome.”