Those of us who were there at St Andrews on Sunday 17 July 2022 witnessed probably the best back nine in championship history. Cameron Smith’s five consecutive birdies from holes 10 to 14 dealt a devastating blow which leader Rory Mcilroy could not withstand. The vocal, partisan galleries roaring and willing him to bring it home, were silenced by the sheer brilliance that Cameron displayed.
Not that Rory played badly, at all. He had two birdies and pars, but he needed to progress the four shot lead he held at the start of the final round and play more aggressively.
“It’s really easy to get defensive out there and keep hitting it to 60 or 70 feet. You can make pars all day but you’re not going to make birdies” he said. He didn’t fail to get it done, he was just overtaken by somebody doing something phenomenal. He didn’t take advantage of the most birdiable holes, 12, 14 and 18. He said that things had not gone his way ad he needed to be a touch more aggressive going into the greens. He said that he was a much better player than he was even a year ago. His driving seemed to be even better and he is a wonderful driver of the ball and all week. His putting was good, it just went cold on Sunday.
Rory has had top 10 finishes in all four majors this year and never seemed to have played better. However, it’s a long wait now, another 8 months before he gets another attempt to win the Masters. “I’m disappointed but I got beaten by a better player” he said “I needed to respond to what Cameron was doing. But this year is going well and there will be other championships, other chances”.
“This is the biggest Open of our lifetime” he said. And indeed, against the background of what is going on in mens professional golf, it did seem to be a loud crescendo of all that had gone before, that everything had led to this.
I saw Cameron’s disgust with his Saturday round of 73 and thought then, he really wants this – there was a caring about what he was doing, and thought then if that’s his bad round out of the way, then he will be dangerous tomorrow. Indeed his strategy was to “make a ton of birdies and attack the round”
And attack he did. On the 10th his drive of 345 yard reached the fringe of the green, he chipped to 2 feet to make a birdie. On 11 his tee shot left a 16 foot putt which he holed for birdie. On the 12th his drive found the edge of the green. He putted to 11 foot from the pin and holed the putt. On 13 he found the fairway, got his approach on the green where he had double bogeyed on Saturday, and sank an 18 foot putt. The difficult 14thhole saw him hit a 315 yard drive to the left of the fairway, clear the green with his second shot where he chipped to 5 foot and birdied.
It was remorseless.
On the Road Hole he left his tee shot in a bunker and was careful on his approach, he took his putter from off the green to set up a par putt, the only time he really played defensively all day. By the 18th tee he was grinning as he was about to come home with a -20 score better than Tiger’s winning score in 2000.
“I had so much fun out there, I felt really comfortable. The pressure was there but I love feeling uncomfortable too”
His driving seemed to be the key to the strategy, he has improved his work ethic to spending many more hours on the range. Going forward he said he was enthusiastic about the Presidents Cup and the Tour Championship.
Although Cameron batted away a reporter’s direct question about his possible plans to join LIV he did not confirm or deny – he just said “I’ve just won The Open and you’re asking me that?”
“This one’s for Oz” said Cameron on being handed the claret jug, he follows his fellow Australian Kel Nagel, who won the Centenary Open in 1960. Double Open Champion Greg Norman, who was not invited to St Andrews, was jubilant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oy, oy, oy” he screamed on his social media. All the more jubilant because persistent rumours about Cameron joining the LIV Tour will not go away. And Rory has been the most vocal defender of the PGA and DP World Tours. The next few weeks will see which way our new Open Champion jumps – hopefully he will take time out to have his first visit back to Australia in three years and do some serious thinking down there.