The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish

The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish

(CNN)A remarkable late surge from Cameron Smith saw the Australian win his first major in stunning fashion at the 150th Open Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland.

In his event debut, the 28-year-old drained five consecutive birdies as he tore through the back nine of the Old Course, carding an eight-under 64 to pip playing partner Cameron Young by a stroke at 20-under par.After starting the day four shots ahead of Smith, Rory McIlroy finished two strokes behind in third after signing off a bogey-free 70.

    It meant heartbreak for the Northern Irishman who, looking to end an eight-year major drought, saw a second Claret Jug win slip through his fingers after a day of missed putting opportunities.

      Having shared the lead with Viktor Hovland at the summit after a pulsating Saturday duel, McIlroy looked on track to finally clinch his fifth major after pulling ahead at the fifth hole from the Norwegian, who carded a two-over 74 to finish fourth. England’s Tommy Fleetwood joined the 24-year-old on 14-under after shooting an impressive 67.Read MoreYet while the 33-year-old subsequently birdied just once more, up ahead Smith — having already doubled that tally by his fifth hole — burst through the back nine with a run of five birdies before adding one more at the 18th.With Young draining a dramatic final eagle just moments earlier, the Australian’s eighth and final birdie of the round spared him a playoff, his victory assured after McIlroy failed to make the speculative eagle chip needed to draw level.

        Smith plays his second shot on the second hole.Comeback kidOvercome with emotion and almost unable to get his words out during the trophy presentation on the 18th tee, Smith opened his press conference simply welcoming the ability to breathe again.”To win an Open Championship in itself is probably going to be a golfer’s highlight in their career,” Smith told reporters.”To do it around St Andrews is just unbelievable. This place is so cool. I love the golf course. I love the town.”The triumph sees Smith become the first Australian to lift the Claret Jug in almost 30 years, after Greg Norman won at Royal St George’s in 1993. Etching yet more history, his four-stroke overhaul matched the largest comeback win at St. Andrews, most recently achieved by John Daly in 1995.The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsJean van de Velde finds himself up a creek without a paddle, 1999 — The mother of all golfing implosions, Frenchman Jean van de Velde led by three shots on the final tee of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. But after an errant tee shot, an overhit iron and a hack out of long grass, his ball had found the Barry Burn stream. Van de Velde waded into the Burn, trousers rolled up, contemplating playing his shot out of the water rather than take the penalty drop. He retrieved his ball in the end and took the penalty, only to chip into a bunker. His putt could only force a three-way playoff, which the Frenchman subsequently lost. The image of van de Velde’s mirthless smile in the stream is so iconic, it’s easy to forget the Frenchman never actually played the shot. Hide Caption 1 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsGreg “The Shark” Norman flounders in the beach, 1989 — The Aussie known as “The Shark” was on blistering form on the final day at Royal Troon in 1989. Starting Sunday seven shots behind American Mark Calcavecchia, Norman stormed to parity with a course-record score of 64 to force a three-way, four-hole playoff. Two birdies and a bogey in the first three holes put Norman in contention. Then everything unraveled: the Australian found a bunker off the tee, then another bunker with his second shot. His ball went out of bounds with his third and that was that. Hide Caption 2 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsTom Watson learns “perfect” isn’t always good enough, 2009 — To this day, the American thinks he hit the “perfect” approach shot on the 18th at Turnberry in 2009. Watson needed par to win the Open and would have become the oldest golfer to do so. But the American caught a flier out of a tailwind and the ball raced through the green and into the long grass. A bogey meant Watson was suddenly in a four-hole playoff with compatriot Stewart Cink, where the older player ran out of steam. The incident is one of golf’s great “what might have beens.”Hide Caption 3 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsThomas Bjorn digs his way out of a hole, 2003 — Leading by two strokes with three holes to play at Royal St George’s in 2003, Thomas Bjorn had one hand on the Claret Jug. Then he took a trip to the beach — more specifically, a bunker on the par-three 16th. It took the Dane three shots to escape the sand trap and he carded a double bogey. Another dropped shot on the 17th and the dream was over.
        Hide Caption 4 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsAdam Scott fluffs a four-shot lead, 2012 — Australian Adam Scott was in cruise control with a four-shot lead at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012. But the course well and truly ground the then 32-year-old down. Bogeys at the 15th, 16th, 17th and Scott was suddenly tied with South African Ernie Els for the lead. But a missed seven-foot putt and yet another bogey led the Australian to watch on as Els lifted the Claret Jug — Scott made slight amends by winning The Masters the following year.Hide Caption 5 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsDoug Sanders misses a three-footer, 1970 — On the 18th green at St Andrews, Doug Sanders had two putts to win The Open. His first put him within three feet — the kind of putt Sanders would sink blindfolded with one hand tied behind his back any other day. But the American cut short his pre-shot routine and missed not just by a little, but by a lot, the ball veering right of the hole. The error resulted in an 18-hole playoff the next day with Jack Nicklaus, who won by a single shot. Hide Caption 6 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsTiger Woods swinging (and swinging and swinging) in the rain, 2002 — On a fair day at the Open, life is good. But when it gets wet and wild, the major is a different beast. Woods, who at the time was the reigning Masters and US Open winner, was aiming for a Grand Slam when he arrived at Muirfield in 2002. Then came the rain. In the third round, the world’s greatest golfer endured one of the most torrid days of his career, carding an 81 to leave him six over par for the tournament. It was the worst score of his professional career, but he was still able to find the funny side of a bad day, holing his first birdie of the round on the 17th and bowing to the crowd. Hide Caption 7 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsJohn Cook gets pipped at the post, 1992 — What happen at Muirfield in 1992 is proof that an Open can pivot on the smallest of moments. The American had a two-shot lead with two holes to play, but after missing an eagle chance — then missing a two-foot putt for birdie on the 17th — he carded a bogey on the 18th. Nick Faldo, playing in the last pair of the day, was resurgent, capitalizing on Cook’s miss and romping home to a one-shot victory. Hide Caption 8 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsHale Irwin’s swing and a miss, 1983 — Hale Irwin and Tom Watson were going toe-to-toe in the final round at Royal Birkdale in 1983, and Irwin needed a par on the 14th hole to keep up with the pace. He’d nearly holed out from 20 feet for a birdie and was inches away. Then, in a moment of casual carelessness, he went to tap in his next putt and … missed. His putter hit the ground and bounced over the ball, costing him a stroke. The worst part? Irwin finished just one shot behind Watson. (Pictured: Irwin not making the same mistake at the Ryder Cup in 1981.)Hide Caption 9 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish Photos: The Open's greatest implosionsIan Woosnam’s double trouble, 2001 — Tied for the lead going into the final round, Welshman Woosnam was chasing a late career major at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2001. He got off to a flier, nearly scoring a hole-in-one on the first hole. What would’ve become a birdie turned into a bogey, however, when it was discovered that he had 15 clubs in his bag — one more than the legal limit. A two-stroke penalty was the result, and the offending wood was promptly hurled out of the bag by Woosnam. He never recovered his momentum and finished tied third.Hide Caption 10 of 10The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishThe Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finishIt sealed a remarkable final day fightback for Smith, whose disappointing 73-shot round Saturday had spoiled an opening 67 and a scintillating 64 that had seen him hold the lead heading into the weekend.Yet far from ruing giving himself extra work, Smith revealed it was a “good thing” that he had been trailing ahead of the deciding day.”It’s very easy to get defensive out there and keep hitting it to 60, 70 feet, and you can make pars all day, but you’re not going to make birdies,” he said.”I think it was a good thing that I was definitely behind. I think my mindset would have been a touch different coming in, especially on that back nine, if I was ahead.”‘It’s not life or death’Third place marks a repeat of McIlroy’s finish at St. Andrews in 2013. Competing in his 13th Open Championship, the Northern Irishman had made no secret of his “dream” to win at the ‘home of golf’ to add to his Claret Jug lifted at Royal Liverpool in 2014.He arrived at the Old Course riding a wave of local support as well as form, having finished runner-up at the Masters and inside the top eight at the other two majors this season.That form was well on show in McIlroy’s stellar tee driving and approach play throughout the day, but the 21-time PGA Tour winner was ultimately undone by his short game as he failed to one-putt from the green through the entirety of the final round.The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish McIlroy makes his approach at the fourth hole.”I’ll rue a few missed putts that slid by, but it’s been a good week overall,” McIlroy told reporters.”I’m playing some of the best golf I’ve played in a long time, so it’s just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open.”At the end of the day, it’s not life or death. I’ll have other chances to win the Open Championship and other chances to win majors. It’s one that I feel like I let slip away, but there will be other opportunities.”Having chatted with Hovland throughout their pulsating Saturday battle, McIlroy was a picture of focus throughout the deciding round amid often-deafening crowd roars for the local fan-favorite.The Open: Cameron Smith wins first major after incredible finish McIlroy hits ancient stone — and breaks PGA Tour employee's hand — in eventful first Open round”I certainly appreciated the support, and it was incredible to be cheered along all 72 holes, but I didn’t let that put me under any more pressure,” he said.”I’m trying to do it for me at the end of the day. Yes, it’s great to get the support, but the happiest person in the world if I won that Claret Jug would have been me.”Meanwhile, Hovland reflected on an “anti-climatic” close to what had been a hugely impressive performance in just his second Open outing. After carding an unblemished scorecard Saturday, the 24-year-old bogeyed three times — and birdied just once — during the final round.Despite only turning professional in 2019, the Norwegian looked at home contending atop the leaderboard throughout the week. Though unable to maintain the pace needed to fulfill his dream of a first major, the fourth-placed finish marked his best result at a major to date after 12th placed finishes at last year’s event and the US Open in 2019.

          “I was expecting I was going to hang in there for a little bit longer,” Hovland told reporters.”Just a little disappointed I didn’t have it today, but it was a great experience today and obviously yesterday as well. The whole week was a good learning experience, and I feel like I’m going to get better from it.”