Cameron Smith stole the claret jug from Rory McIlroy’s grasp, carding six birdies on the final nine Sunday at St. Andrews and capping a 64-64 weekend to win the 150th Open Championship by a shot. Here’s everything you need to know:
Leaderboard: Cameron Smith (-20), Cameron Young (-19), Rory McIlroy (-18), Viktor Hovland (-14), Tommy Fleetwood (-14)
How it happened: Prior to Sunday’s final round, Tiger Woods sent NBC on-course reporter John Wood a text putting himself in the shoes of the two co-leaders, McIlroy and Hovland, who were four shots clear of the nearest chasers, which included Smith. It read: “If I shot 19 under par, which would tie the lowest score in relation to par in all four majors, I would win. How do I go about doing that? No bunkers, no three-putts, take care of the drivable par 4s and take care of the par 5s. Maybe sneak in one or two more [birdies]. Lo and behold, a score around 68 without doing anything special.”
McIlroy tried to follow that game plan. He didn’t find a bunker, nor did he three-putt. And for good measure, he didn’t miss a green in regulation. Unfortunately, for McIlroy, he also couldn’t buy a birdie, managing only two, closing in 2-under 70 and getting passed by the young Aussie, who did something special.
While Hovland fell off the pace, McIlroy appeared to be doing just enough to win despite just two birdies in his first 10 holes. But by that time, Smith had begun a streak of five straight birdies – from 5, 16, 11, 18 and 5 feet at Nos. 10-14 – to overtake McIlroy and move to 19 under. Smith added a birdie at the last with a closing 8-under 64, but he actually won this tournament a hole earlier, at the Road Hole, where he piped a drive down the fairway only to hook one left and well short of the green. With the infamous Road Hole Bunker between he and the hole, Smith opted to putt around the trap. He then sunk the clutch 10-footer for par to remain a shot clear of McIlroy, who needed to chip in for eagle at the last but ran it well past and ended up third, two back and shot behind Young, who eagled No. 18 to earn the runner-up finish.
What it means: Coming into this 150th Open, McIlroy spoke of the significance of winning a claret jug at St. Andrews’ prized Old Course. He called the achievement the “holy grail” of professional golf, so though McIlroy already possessed one Open title, in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, he wanted this one badly. After all, it had been eight years since McIlroy had won a major of any kind. Instead, it was Smith, with just one top-20 in four previous Open starts, knocking off his first major. In winning, the 28-year-old Smith became the first Australian to win The Open in 29 years, since Greg Norman beat Nick Faldo in 1993 at Royal St. George’s.
Round of the day: While McIlroy struck 36 putts on Sunday, Smith had just 29, and that performance with the flatstick helped him card the low final round by a shot over several players, including Young.
Biggest disappointment: In what was supposed to be essentially a match-play battle between he and McIlroy, Hovland went birdie-less for 11 holes and never factored down the stretch.