Cameron Smith beats Rory McIlroy to win the 150th British Open

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland. The wind, though not numerous, finally seems to be blowing again on Rory McIlroy in a major championship.

He had a fraction of a four-stroke lead with one round to go, and while he wasn’t exactly playing at home in the home of golf, McIlroy, the Northern Irishman, certainly must have felt like he was playing on his own terms and on his own pitch, basking in the roar of the record-breaking crowd. , and strolled merrily along the undulating fairways and double greens of the Old Course.

McIlroy, at 33, has both charisma and play, with a stretchy backswing that gives him the strength normally found in more muscular men and allows him to travel to far-flung places.

But the 150th UK Open came down to a deft touch, not overwhelming power, and while McIlroy certainly didn’t deprive himself of his chance to make history, he barely grabbed the important moment by the lapels and rocked it with all his might.

It’s up to Cameron Smith and his stick.

Smith, an Australian with a wispy mustache and mullet, has a retro vibe, and while blazers and ties are the rule at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Smith still fits into the Old Course game perfectly, sharpening bird after bird after bird after bird. after a birdie (yes, five in a row) nine behind, despite the pressure that comes with trying to win your first major tournament.

Smith, a 28-year-old Brisbane native in sweltering Queensland, made eight birds on Sunday by throwing a glittery closing round 64 without ghosts this put him 20 under par and gave him a one-punch win over American Cameron Young. McIlroy finished third, one stroke behind after shooting 70 on Sunday and producing denomination after denomination, but no fireworks on the back nine.

“The stick is a little cold today compared to the last three days,” McIlroy said.

Smith had no such difficulty and became the first Australian to win the British Open since Greg Norman in 1993 and the first Australian to win any major since Jason Day won the PGA Championship in 2015.

Smith also kept his country’s tradition of winning special anniversary editions of the Open Championship in St. Louis. Andrews. Australian Kel Nagle won his 100th draw here in 1960.

“That’s cool; I didn’t know that,” Smith said. “I think winning the Open in itself would probably be the pinnacle of a golfer’s career. To do it near Andrews Street, I think, is just incredible. This place is so cool. I love the golf course. I love the city. I hope we can keep this trend going every 50 years. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

The win also seemed to confirm traditional tours in their increasingly bitter rivalry with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf splinter series, which used bigger checks and lighter loads to lure big stars like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka. , Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, who have since been banned from the PGA Tour but can still play in major tournaments for now.

Johnson came closest to winning the Old Course of the defectors, finishing sixth in the under-13s. But Smith was unlikely to calm down when asked about rumors that he is considering switching to LIV. “I just won the British Open and you are asking about it?” he said, clearly embarrassed, saying that the line of inquiry was “not that good.”

The reporter insisted, and Smith neither confirmed nor denied his interest in a new tour led by Norman, a compatriot from Australia. “I don’t know, mate,” Smith said. “My team around me is worried about all of this. I’m here to win golf tournaments.”

Smith, if he jumps, will certainly be in a stronger position after a week in St. Louis. Andrews and he showed far more accuracy than emotion during his splash in the final round, which started at number 1.10, as he made the first of his five birdies in a row and started to reel in McIlroy and Victor Hovland, who were co-leaders after third round.

But Smith has learned some hard lessons in major tournaments, finishing in the top five four times, including a third-place finish at the 2022 Masters and a second-place finish in 2020. “I have definitely kicked myself a couple of times in the last few years,” he said.

He won the Players Championship in March, his second PGA Tour win of the season, and also made a series of birdies in the final round at back nine. Players, with their elite field and rich wallets, have often been cited as the next best thing after a major tournament, but the open championship is the real deal, and while the old field is far from the rotation’s toughest test, it retains its power to inspire.

Smith’s cumulative score of 20 points under par (268) set a record for the British Open in St. Louis. Andrews, surpassing Tiger Woods by 19 below when he won the Open here in 2000.

Woods, then in his prime, won by eight strokes, turning the last round into a procession. But Smith’s victory was in vain. He led the tournament after two rounds but then dropped four shots behind the leader, winning one over 73 on Saturday. end of the bunker.

By Saturday night, McIlroy had gained momentum, sharing the lead with Hovland, the former Oklahoma State College star who learned the basics of the game from watching YouTube videos and was trying to become the first Norwegian to win a major.

“You were born for this Rory! Come on! shouted one Scottish fan as McIlroy headed for the 10th ball on Sunday.

McIlroy won the 2014 UK Open. at Royal Liverpool and added a fourth major to the PGA Championship later that season. He seemed set for long-term dominance but missed the UK Open next year, the last of which will be played in St. Louis. Andrews was injured and frustrated in the final round for many years.

Eight years later, the race for the next major continues, despite finishing in the top 10 at all four majors this season.

“I’ll regret a few missed hits, but overall it’s been a good week,” he said. “I can’t be too dejected about how this year has gone and how this year is going. I play one of the best golf in a long time. So you just have to keep knocking on the door and eventually it will open.”

Instead, he opened up to Smith. “Look, I got beat by a stronger player this week,” McIlroy said. “Twenty-under par for four rounds of golf here is a really, really impressive game, especially if you go out and hit 64 tonight to get things done.”

To do so, Smith had to bounce back from a wobbly second shot into the infamous road hole, the par-4 17th hole, which played tougher than any hole on the course this year. But Smith landed a beautifully weighted shot up the side of the field that left him with a 10-footer to keep par. He did so and headed for the 18th hole, where Young, his playing partner, finished heads, which very briefly tied him for the lead with Smith, 19 under.

But Smith had already hit his second par-4 18 just two feet from the hole.

“Cameron wasn’t going to miss it,” said Young, who watched Smith devastate so many power punches over the course of an overcast day.

Yang knew his man. Smith calmly took position and potted the ball into the cup, reclaiming the lead by 20 fewer.

McIlroy’s last chance to make the playoffs was to make an eagle in 18th, which Young had just proven was manageable. But McIlroy’s tee shot, like his round, was short, and when he failed to hit the second throw, Smith became British Open champion with his name is engraved – in a hurry – on a burgundy jug.

“All the hard work we’ve put in over the last couple of years is really starting to pay off,” Smith told his team as he held the trophy in his hands, tears welling up in his eyes. “And this one is definitely worth it.”

But Smith, recovering himself, made it clear that he intended to put the claret jug to good use, though not for the claret at the moment.

“I will definitely find out how many bottles of beer will fit in this thing, that’s for sure,” he said.