PLAYERS Champ: Aussie Cameron Smith

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Terrible winds blew away all the top-ranked golfers in the game except one at THE PLAYERS Championship. Cameron Smith, an Aussie transplant now living in Jacksonville Beach, fought through it all — the course, the competition and the conditions — to emerge victorious. He is the fifth Australian to win the tournament.

“I live here now,” Smith said. “I call this place home and had a lot of fans out there rooting for me today. It was so good of the fans to come out today on Monday and give it their all.”

He had picked up his mother and sister at the airport earlier in the week. They had not seen each other for two and a half years due to COVID. Usually, he is able to see them twice a year, about six weeks in all.

“I hadn't seen them for so long, and all I wanted to do was hang out with them,” he said. “It's so cool to get a win for them.”

Smith’s putting was the key to his victory. He was unstoppable, it seemed. In the final round, he came out with a hot putter and birdied the first four holes. He dropped a 38-footer at the first, nine-footers at the second and third, and a 10-and-a-half footer at the fourth. Then he made his only par on the front nine.

His challenges came mainly from himself when he made three bogeys to close out the front nine. When asked how he turned it around, he had a straightforward answer.

“I guess it was just keeping it simple, back to one shot at a time, just trying to hit the fairways off the tee,” he said, adding that he was able to hit “nice drives” at 10 and 11. “It was just kind of knuckling down and kind of knowing what I had to do.”

For a time, early in the back nine, there were a dozen players within two shots.

Then Smith turned on the afterburners. After the turn, he birdied the next four holes by sinking a ten-footer at the 10th, a four-footer at the 11th, a three-footer at the 12th and a 12-footer at the 13th. It was just an amazing putting display.

Then he stalled until the 16th when things went horribly wrong. He hit a comprehensive hook off the tee.

“It was a horrendous drive,” he said. “Had a chip-out and still had maybe 220 meters to the hole, so maybe 240 (yards). I think that's where it could have got away from me a little bit.”

The reason that shot and the tee shot at the 18th are hard for him is that he plays a left-to-right shot shape, and those holes ask for a right-to-left shot or at the very worst, a straightish shot.

He was behind trees, on pine straw, with a shot that could potentially have gone into the water right of the hole if he hit it too hard. He jabbed one out a little over 100 yards and then needed another shot to get to the green. It was a waste of a shot, but in the end it didn’t matter.

His most amazing shot was on the 17th where his ball landed just four and a half feet from the cup.

“I'd be lying if I said I was aimed to the right of it,” he admitted. “I was just trying to hit it on the right edge of the bunker there and kind of hold it up against the wind.” 

It landed in the space between the flagstick and the edge of the green. A small space indeed, rather like Rickie Fowler’s famous shot there.

Smith’s second worst shot was from the 18th tee when he pulled a drive into the pine straw on the right. Pitching out, he gave it too much hit, and the ball scampered into the water left of the 18th. However, his score was low enough that he had a slim margin, even with that mistake. It was all he needed. He chipped up to about three feet and made the putt for the victory.    

In the end, Cameron Smith defeated all the best players in the world, wicked weather, beastly winds and one of the toughest courses on the planet. In the final round, he made 10 birdies and finished with a 66.

He’s a deserving PLAYERS Champ and one of five Australians to have won the tournament. The others are Steve Elkington, Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Jason Day.     

[For Final Round notes, click here.]

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