UTSA prepares to face the Utah Utes tonight in Salt Lake City

The UTSA Roadrunners will continue their two-game road swing through the Mountain Time Zone tonight when they play the Utah Utes of the Pac-12 Conference in Salt Lake City. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. (Central time) at the Huntsman Center.

The Roadrunners are 5-4 on the season, but they’ve lost three of their last four games and they’re 0-2 on the road, including a 94-76 loss on Saturday to the New Mexico Lobos in Albuquerque.

The Utes, listed at No. 17 nationally in the NCAA’s NET rankings, are similar in strength to the Lobos.

They’re off to a fast start, 8-2 on the season and 6-1 at home, to open their second campaign under Coach Craig Smith. Additionally, they’re 2-0 in the Pac-12 after scoring recent victories over fourth-ranked Arizona at home and Washington State on the road.

Barring a run to the NCAA tournament, the Utah game will be the only matchup this season for UTSA against a team from a Power Five conference. UTSA is a 0-24 against teams from the Pac-12, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the Southeastern Conference or the Atlantic Coast Conference over the past 13 seasons.

The last time UTSA beat a P5? It was in November of 2009 when the Roadrunners traveled to defeat the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, 62-50, in Iowa City. At the time, UTSA played in the Southland Conference under coach Brooks Thompson.

UTSA, now under Coach Steve Henson in Conference USA, schedules teams from the power leagues for revenue.

The Roadrunners will collect a sizeable check for playing the game at Utah. This time, Henson also would love to bring home a victory. He is 0-12 against the P5 in his six previous seasons at UTSA.

Teams in the P5 leagues reap huge amounts of football-related television revenue, and UTSA rarely gets to play them at home.

In fact, during the 24-game losing streak, the Roadrunners have played only one of those games in San Antonio. They were able to schedule a game early in the 2018-19 season on campus in the Convocation Center against Oklahoma but lost that contest, 87-67, to the Sooners.

Coming up

UTSA at Utah, 8 tonight, in Salt Lake City. After returning home Wednesday, the Roadrunners will have a few days to prepare before hosting Bethune-Cookman on Sunday. The game is UTSA’s last in non conference. Conference USA play commences on Dec. 22, when the Roadrunners host the North Texas Mean Green.

Records

UTSA 5-4
Utah 8-2

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Prairie View A&M and its big-guard tandem to challenge the UTSA Roadrunners

Jacob Germany celebrates as time runs out. UTSA beat Texas State 61-56 in men's basketball on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Jacob Germany and the UTSA Roadrunners will try to build on momentum as they host the Prairie View A&M Panthers tonight at the Convocation Center. UTSA had its best game of the season last Thursday night in downing the Texas State Bobcats. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Prairie View A&M Panthers will call on a couple of talented big guards to test the improving UTSA Roadrunners tonight.

Six-foot-five Will Douglas and 6-3 Jeremiah Gambrell will lead the Panthers (3-1) against the Roadrunners (3-1) at the UTSA Convocation Center. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

A week ago today, the two players with a combined 174 games of experience in NCAA Division I basketball paced Prairie View of the Southwestern Athletic Conference to a 70-59 victory on its home court over the Washington State Cougars.

Douglas, a Prairie View newcomer this season, exploded for 26 points and seven rebounds against the Cougars of the Pac-12. Gambrell scored 19.

Earlier, Washington State had downed the Texas State Bobcats, 83-61, on its home court in Pullman, Wash.

By extended comparison, UTSA played its best game of the season last Thursday in knocking off the Bobcats, 61-56, at the Convocation Center.

Against the Bobcats, the challenge for UTSA was to slow down 5-foot-9 Mason Harrell. Harrell scored 20 on the Roadrunners, but a 2-3 zone defense limited most of the rest of the Texas State offensive threats.

In the meantime, UTSA guards Japhet Medor and John Buggs combined for 29 points to lead the victory.

While Medor and Buggs aren’t the biggest guards in NCAA Division I and may not match up well in size compared to most players they’ll see this season — such as Douglas and Gambrell — they’re showing the ability to play at a high level.

In addition, 6-foot-5 UTSA freshman D.J. Richards is also coming along and gaining more confidence, giving the Roadrunners a chance to grow their offensive capabilities with three unique talents.

Medor is a slasher on the dribble, while Buggs and Richards are two quick-release, 3-point shooting threats.

Lately, Medor is the Roadrunners’ biggest problem for opponents. His quickness is hard to defend, even with help.

The Bobcats couldn’t stay in front of him at the end of a closely-contested game, and UTSA ended up winning by five.

UTSA coach Steve Henson applauded Medor for taking what the Bobcats’ defense was giving him. As the game progressed, Texas State’s defense kept extending, putting more pressure on the perimeter.

“Late in the game, it was super-extended and taking away passes,” Henson said. “When Japhet did beat his own guy, there wasn’t much help (to slow him) from getting to the rim, and we needed that. I wish we had two or three guys who could do that.

“We put (Christian) Tucker in there a little in the first half, because he’s a guy that can give us a little penetration. That’s key. They took us out of our stuff. They manhandled us out on the perimeter.

“You just got to get by your guy, which is what Japhet did, and he converted.”

Defending against Douglas and Gambrell could pose problems for the Roadrunners.

Not only is Douglas talented, he’s also experienced. The Memphis native has played in 102 games in his career, including 72 at SMU over four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21. At Prairie View, he played in 26 last season and in four in this, his sixth season as a collegian. Douglas is averaging 19.8 points on 52 percent shooting from the field.

In addition, he’s one of the Panthers’ best rebounders, averaging 5.5. Gambrell, with 72 games of experience in Division I, also brings experience. The Houston native is a fifth-year player, having spent two years at Western Kentucky and the past three at Prairie View. He’s averaging 13 points, two rebounds and two assists.

Coming up

Prairie View A&M at UTSA, tonight at 7, at the UTSA Convocation Center. The Roadrunners host the 210 San Antonio Shootout this weekend. They’ll play Grambling State on Friday night (at 7:30), followed by games against Dartmouth on Sunday (7:30) and Incarnate Word on Monday (6:30).

Records

UTSA (3-1)
Prairie View A&M (3-1)

San Antonio Missions announce local ownership group

Reid Ryan. The San Antonio Missions announced their new ownership group on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Reid Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, will oversee San Antonio Missions baseball operations. Ryan addressed the media at a Wolff Stadium news conference on Thursday – Photo by Joe Alexander

The San Antonio Missions baseball team on Thursday morning unveiled its first local ownership group in almost 40 years, a transaction hailed as one that would secure the franchise’s future in the Alamo City.

The Missions of the Double-A Texas League will continue to play at Wolff Stadium, but it has also been widely speculated that a new downtown facility and the potential for a move back to Triple-A could be on the horizon.

Designated Bidders LLC, a group formed by local business executives, has agreed to acquire the Missions from long-time franchise owner Dave Elmore and the Elmore Sports Group, the ball club announced.

The price tag for the franchise was reported at $29 million by Baseball Digest.

For the first time since the late Tom Turner Sr. owned the franchise from 1979-86, the Missions will operate under local ownership. Elmore, a California-based travel industry executive, purchased the franchise in 1987 and ran it for 34 years starting in the summer of 1988.

Principals in Designated Bidders include attorney Bruce Hill; Randy Smith and Graham Weston of Weston Urban; local entrepreneur Bob Cohen of Bob Cohen Strategies and Peter J. Holt, the chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment. SS&E operates the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Ryan Sanders Baseball, owned by the families of baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, CEO Reid Ryan, and Don Sanders, will join Designated Bidders as owners and operators of the Missions.

Reid Ryan, the son of the former major league pitching great, will oversee a Missions front-office that will include longtime team president Burl Yarbrough and his staff.

Local elected officials hailed the ownership transaction at a news conference near home plate at Wolff Stadium, the team’s home field since 1994.

“This is a long-time coming,” said outgoing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, the stadium’s namesake. “I’m glad to see it did get done before the year was over. It’s something a number of us have pushed for, for a long time. To get fan support, do the right thing for baseball, you need local ownership, people that have given back to the community.

“We’ve got a great ownership group, every one of them. Every one of them have made contributions to the community. I think they’re well respected. That’s what it takes to build a successful franchise.”

Ryan Sanders Baseball has long been recognized as a leader in minor league sports.

The group founded the Round Rock Express and built Dell Diamond in 2000. It also founded the Corpus Christi Hooks and developed Whataburger Field in 2005. Both Reid and Nolan Ryan have extensive experience with MLB. Nolan Ryan served as the Texas Rangers’ CEO from 2008-13 and Reid Ryan worked as the Houston Astros’ president of business operations from 2013-19.

The Missions first played in 1888. A franchise that has produced the likes of Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, Joe Morgan, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez has been a Double-A team for most of that time.

In 2019, they played one season in Triple A in the Pacific Coast League, followed by the next season when they were forced to suspend operations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic subsided, the Missions returned to play in 2021 at the Double-A level, having to make a move down in the wake of a new agreement between minor and major league baseball. Concerns about an aging stadium that didn’t meet new specifications were cited as a factor.

The Missions are an affiliate of major league baseball’s San Diego Padres.

Smith talked to reporters after making opening remarks and fielded questions about the possibility of a new stadium.

In addressing reporters, Smith said stadium planning will be a focus of the new group in coming months. Asked how much land it would take, he cautioned that “there has been no site selected.”

“There is no plan,” he added. “The plan has strictly been, let’s have local ownership. That is the only way this will stay in San Antonio long term. So that was step one.

“A fully developed plan for a ballpark is definitely next on the agenda, and to answer your question around how many acres are required, is kind of like asking how long is a rope.”

In discussing site evaluation, Smith referenced Southwest University Park in El Paso.

“The smallest site for a new ballpark is actually kind of amazing,” he said. “It’s in El Paso, home of the Chihuahuas, and it sits on just over five acres. But that is five acres shaped by the hand of God himself.”

Southwest University Park opened in 2014. It cost a reported $72 million. Smith said El Paso’s tract of land was “the perfect shape for a ballpark.”

“Most new ballparks range between seven and eight acres,” he said. “But it’s far more about the dimension. There’s an optimal orientation for a ballpark. You can have a 10-acre site that doesn’t work and a five-acre site that’s perfect.”

UTSA women picked ninth in preseason C-USA basketball poll

UTSA has been picked to finish ninth in Conference USA women’s basketball, according to the conference’s preseason poll announced Thursday.

Jordyn Jenkins at UTSA women's basketball practice at the Convocation Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Newcomer Jordyn Jenkins leads UTSA into a regular-season opener at Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 7. Jenkins has been named to the preseason all-Conference USA squad. – photo by Joe Alexander

Roadrunners forward Jordyn Jenkins, a transfer from Southern Cal, has been named to the preseason all-conference squad.

According to the poll, which has been released out of the C-USA office, Middle Tennessee State has been picked to win the title, followed by Louisiana Tech and Charlotte.

The projected order of finish is as follows, with first place votes in parentheses and total points:

1. Middle Tennessee (9) 118
2. LA Tech 104
3. Charlotte (2) 95
4. Rice 77
5. North Texas 75
6. WKU 66
7. UAB 58
8. UTEP 43
9. UTSA 36
10. FIU 34
11. Florida Atlantic 20

Preseason Player of the Year

Keiunna Walker, LA Tech

All-Conference

Mikayla Boykin, Charlotte, senior guard
Jada McMillian, Charlotte, senior guard
Anna Larr Roberson, LA Tech, junior forward
Keiunna Walker, LA Tech, senior guard
Kseniya Malashka, Middle Tennessee, redshirt senior forward
Savannah Wheeler, Middle Tennessee, senior guard
Courtney Whitson, Middle Tennessee, senior forward
Quincy Noble, North Texas, senior guard
Ashlee Austin, Rice, senior forward
Jordyn Jenkins, UTSA, junior forward

UTSA’s Medor bolsters his career through support from a big family

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

On the court, UTSA senior Japhet Medor likes to consider himself as a pass-first point guard, a distributor of the basketball. A team player. First and foremost, he wants to win and to see his teammates, his brothers, have fun.

1 Japhet Medor UTSA basketball at photo day on Sept. 22, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Japhet Medor is preparing to make his NCAA Division I debut with the UTSA Roadrunners. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Off the court, he’s a businessman, promoting his own clothing line, the “Top Floor Boyz.”

But perhaps more to the point of his own identity, Medor is a family man. As the youngest of seven siblings, he expresses gratitude for the guidance of his parents and all of his real-life brothers and a sister, who always provided him with a safe haven.

“It was like, for me, being around them, they’ve been in the same situations I’ve been in,” said Medor, 23, from Wellington, Fla. “A lot of them played sports and a lot — well, all of them — own a business for themselves.

“So just being able to pick their brain and know what and what not to do, growing up, was good. It was good for me. When there’s a hurricane day, you get to have fun with your family (and) stay in.”

Medor has always looked up to hoops icons like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry.

But, his career as a ball player all started with his sister, Vanessa, and his brothers, including Chris, Evens, Greg, Fred and Dean, all of them supplying him with the steady encouragement that he needed.

“My older brother (Greg) was definitely my mentor. (He) trains me, coaches me,” Medor said. “He always helps me out. My other brothers, they always pick my game apart. Like, if I’m playing, they’ll tell me what I’m doing wrong. (They’ll say) what I’m not doing right.”

By all accounts, the UTSA newcomer is getting it right on a pretty consistent basis in his first year of NCAA Division I. Chris, Evens, Greg and the others in the Medor clan should really have few worries about the baby of the family.

In fact, Medor is pushing during fall camp practices to become the Roadrunners’ starting point guard when the season opens in a few weeks.

UTSA coach Steve Henson has been happy with his progress since the summer. On Thursday, during a fast-paced practice that included about an hour of five-on-five, the 6-foot playmaker stood out as perhaps the best player on the floor at the Convocation Center.

“Today, I thought Japhet just had a different explosiveness about him,” Henson said. “I thought he had an extra gear today.”

It’s been a long, long journey through the basketball landscape for Medor, who was one of the nation’s top scorers and assist men in junior college last year at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla.

All told, the 2018 graduate of Lake Worth High School spent one year in prep school and three in community colleges, toiling away to make a name for himself.

Now, with the season set to start Nov. 2 in an exhibition against Schreiner and then a Nov. 7 home opener against Trinity, Medor is on the verge of realizing his dream. He’ll be a Division I point guard. Is he feeling the adrenaline? You better believe it.

But in keeping with his personality, he steers the conversation away from his own feelings and talks instead about his teammates. About the team’s dreams.

“With the feeling we have (on) the team right now … the coaching staff and the players, it’s got us fueled up and excited for the season,” Medor said. “Just seeing what everyone is doing right now (in practice), it’s amazing what we can put together.”

Medor is expected to set the tempo for UTSA’s attack with his speed.

“He sees the game and feels it,” Roadrunners associate head coach Mike Peck said. “He really wants to try to set up his teammates (by) hitting the open guy. He sees things before they happen sometimes. He makes plays for other players. Puts shooters in position to … catch and shoot. Which is huge for us. He’s been great in that regard.

“We knew he was fast. But when you see it up close and in person when you’re on the floor with him, it’s at a different level.”

UTSA coaches have also talked during the fall about the maturity and leadership that transfer guards such as John Buggs III and Medor will bring to the program. Peck said Medor’s maturity likely stems from the player’s close-knit family, but also from traveling a hard road to Division I.

“He spent three years at the junior college level,” Peck said. “So, he’s seen some things and dealt with some things … He’s gone through the junior college route where they don’t get much. And you got to fight for everything.

“Coming here and having the resources, I think he has an appreciation for that, and that just adds to his maturity.”

UTSA assistant coach Scott Thompson made the initial contact with Medor last spring. Peck followed up with a visit and started to push to get him on the team as soon as possible. According to reports, he picked UTSA over Valparaiso, Stetson, Fordham and a few others.

Just as Medor made a careful decision on where to attend school this fall, he’s also wise to the world, Peck said.

“He’s definitely got that free-enterprise mindset,” the coach said. “He likes fashion and what’s trendy. He’s tuned into that, like a lot of kids. But even more so with him.”

Medor said he and a friend started the Top Floor Boyz business through a casual conversation a few years ago.

“Like, when we were around each other, we’d always say (it), Top Floor Boyz,” he said. “About 2018, we started an LLC for it, and we started pushing it. Wherever I go, I’ll wear Top Floor Boyz. I’ll push it. I’ll wear my own brand. Stuff like that.”

Medor is also expected to push the pace for the Roadrunners’ offense. Combined with Christian Tucker, the UTSA attack will have two problems for which opposing defenses will need to contend.

In Medor, the Roadrunners have a player who knew from an early age how he wanted to play the game. He was a teammate in high shool with Trent Frazier, a former star at the University of Illinois.

Watching Frazier helped Medor understand how much impact he could have on a game just by hitting the open man with a sweet pass.

“It’s an exciting feeling,”he said. “Just seeing your team happy and working with you. To get a stop on defense and go down to the other end … It just feels good with everyone playing together. You want everyone playing together and being happy together.”

Sudden impact — San Antonio’s Josh Jung homers in MLB debut

San Antonio native and Texas Rangers rookie Josh Jung on Friday made his first at-bat in the major leagues a memorable one, belting a home run over the left field wall in Arlington.

Jung, formerly of San Antonio MacArthur High School and Texas Tech University, led off the third inning in a home game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

He ripped an 0-2 offering from Texas A&M-ex Ross Stripling 388 feet into the seats just beyond the wall at Globe Life Field.

With the blast, Jung became just the second player in the history of the Rangers to homer in his first trip to the plate. He followed Jurickson Profar, who did it in 2012 in a game at Cleveland, according to Kennedi Landry of mlb.com.

In the end, the Blue Jays won, 4-3. The Rangers rallied from a three run deficit to tie it, 3-3. The Blue Jays scored in the top of the ninth to take the lead.

With a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth, Jung struck out swinging against Jordan Romano to end the game. For the night, he went 2 for 4 with a homer, a single and a stolen base.

San Antonio’s Josh Jung expected to make MLB debut with the Texas Rangers on Friday

San Antonio native Josh Jung is being called up to play for the Texas Rangers, media outlets covering the franchise reported Wednesday. The Rangers’ first-round draft pick in 2019 is expected to make his debut on Friday.

Jung played in high school at MacArthur in the North East Independent School District. He was a four-time all-district honoree, a three-time all-region winner and three-time all-state through the 2016 season.

With his promotion from Triple-A Round Rock to the Rangers, Jung follows two other MacArthur baseball legends into the major leagues — catchers Jerry Grote and John Gibbons.

Grote caught Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and won a World Series with the Mets in 1969. Gibbons also played for the Mets and managed the Blue Jays. Another San Antonian, Odie Davis, briefly played shortstop for the Rangers in 1980.

Armed with a powerful batting stroke and agility in the field, Jung established himself in college as one of the top infielders in the history of Texas Tech University. He hit .306, .392 and .343 in his three seasons in Lubbock, leading the Red Raiders to the College World Series as a junior in 2019.

As a result, the Rangers made him the No. 8 overall selection in the baseball draft that summer. In the minor leagues, Jung dominated at the plate with a batting average of .311, an on-base percentage of .381 and a slugging percentage of .538.

He produced 30 home runs and 118 RBIs in 153 games covering the 2019, 2021 and 2022 seasons. Baseball wasn’t played in the minors in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jung is expected to play third base and perhaps some at first with the Rangers. He’s expected to make his debut on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rangers will host the Blue Jays in Arlington from Friday through Sunday.

Since the end of last season, speculation swirled that Jung would be a candidate to make the major leagues at some point in 2022.

Those plans were altered slightly when he suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder during spring training.

His season started July 28 when he was sent to the Arizona Complex League on a rehabilitation assignment. By Aug. 9, he joined the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock.

Jung has looked good at the plate in Triple-A, hitting .274, with a .317 on-base percentage. His slugging percentage was .526. He homered six times and drove in 24 runs in 31 games.

It’s been a big year for the Jung family. Earlier this summer, Josh’s younger brother, Jace Jung, was picked 12th overall on the first round of the draft by the Detroit Tigers. He is playing in the minor leagues in High Class A for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Jace Jung also played in high school at MacArthur and in college at Texas Tech. While Josh Jung hits from the right side, Jace Jung bats lefty. He, too, hits for power. Both throw right-handed.

Fernando Tatis Jr. returns to San Antonio on rehabilitation assignment

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Fernando Tatis Jr. returned to San Antonio on Saturday night, with the San Diego Padres’ star playing on an injury rehabilitation assignment. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Wichita Wind Surge scored a 5-1 victory over the San Antonio Missions on Saturday night as a big crowd at Wolff Stadium got a close-up look at San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Recovering from an offseason wrist fracture, Tatis went 0-for-2 with two walks for the Missions in front of 7,438 fans. It was his first game action of the season. The San Diego Padres haven’t put a timetable on his return, according to AJ Cassavell of mlb.com.

Tatis first came to San Antonio as a highly-touted minor leaguer in the Padres’ system in 2017 and 2018. From 2019 through 2021, he emerged as one of the most exciting young players in the majors, producing a .292 batting average and a hefty .962 OPS.

In that time, he bashed 81 home runs, delivered with 195 RBIs and did it all in his first 273 games in the big leagues.

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Tatis, who batted leadoff as the designated hitter on Saturday, is expected to play in the field for the Missions on Sunday – Photo by Joe Alexander

The offseason wasn’t kind to Tatis. He underwent surgery to repair the scaphoid bone in his left wrist on March 16, Cassavell reported.

Cassavell wrote in his story on Saturday that the Padres’ shortstop was cleared to begin a swinging progression in mid-July. Tatis reportedly is in the final step in that progression before he is cleared to return to the Padres.

Padres manager Bob Melvin noted that Tatis would see game action at both shortstop and center field during his rehabilitation stint. “We’re going to take that day to day,” Melvin told Cassavell. “He didn’t have a spring, hasn’t played in the field yet. So we’ll monitor him as we go along.”

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Tatis walked in his first two at bats, both on four pitches. He struck out on his third try and popped up to third base in his final plate appearance. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Smith rallies to win The Open, and validation, at St. Andrews

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

In the last 48 hours, Cameron Smith’s emotions have ranged from guarded optimism, to cringe-inducing despair and, finally, to sheer joy and slight disbelief.

It was a ride he’ll always remember.

Smith, a 28-year-old Florida resident from Australia, claimed his first major golf title in stunning fashion Sunday, rallying past one of the biggest names in the sport to win the 150th anniversary of The Open at St. Andrews.

Trailing by four shots entering the last round, Smith drained a number of long putts and produced a 64 on the legendary, par-72 Old Course to claim the Claret Jug trophy.

He joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning The Open in Scotland at St. Andrews, which is considered the home of golf for its history as a place where people first played the game.

“It’s just unreal,” he told NBC television. “This place is so cool. To have the 150th Open here, and to walk away with the win, is something that I’ve dreamt of. I didn’t know (if I’d ever) get this far, and, it’s just awesome.”

Smith fashioned an eight-birdie, zero-bogey final round to finish at 20 under par, beating playing partner Cameron Young (-19) and rallying past crowd favorite and third-round leader Rory McIlroy (-18).

Entering the final round, McIlroy was tied for the lead at minus 16, but the four-time, major winner failed to generate much momentum. Trailing by two on the par-four 18th, McIlroy needed an eagle to tie and force a playoff.

But a second-shot iron from the fairway rolled well past the pin, eliminating him from contention.

“I had a great opportunity today to add to that major (championship) tally, and I didn’t quite get it done,” McIlroy told NBC sports. “I didn’t feel like I did many things wrong, but the putter just sort of went cold on me.”

At the end, on the 18th fairway, a stunning development came when Young hit a tee shot to the green and into eagle territory. Later, the 25-year-old from New York sank the putt and reached 19 under.

Smith was forced to make birdie to break the tie, and he did, tapping in for the one-stroke lead. From there, Smith and Young walked into the clubhouse, waiting for McIlroy to finish.

As McIlroy misfired on his approach to 18, the championship was decided, and the TV cameras went to Smith, who was hugging people. He was the winner.

In a couple of interviews with NBC, he thanked a group of fans from Australia who showed up to support him.

Grinning, Smith also suggested that his victory might prompt a celebration in which the Claret Jug might be employed to hoist a few beers.

For Smith, the tournament had its twists and turns.

He opened with a 67 on Thursday and followed with a 64 on Friday. Coming into Saturday with a two-stroke lead, he endured a tough round in which he double-bogeyed a hole on the back nine and shot 73.

Pain was etched on his face during — and after — the double bogey on the 13th hole.

Coming to the course on Sunday, he told NBC that he just wanted to play it smart off the tee.

“Where we could get on the fairway and give myself a look at birdie,” Smith said. “The putter felt good all week. They didn’t quite all go in yesterday, and today, they were all going in.”

Entering the tournament week, much of the talk centered on Tiger Woods’ return to the Old Course. Could he win again?

Others mentioned as potential favorites included Masters winner Scottie Scheffler and McIlroy, the Nos. 1-2 players in the world rankings. Xander Schauffele had two two straight tournaments and was one of the darkhorses.

There wasn’t much discussion at all about Smith, the No. 6 player in the world who finished tied for third at the Masters, 13th at the PGA and missed the cut at the U.S. Open.

In the end, the winner of the Players Championship earlier this year found validation, and some other intangibles, as well.

“To win it here,” Smith said. “is pretty special.”

Preparing for Sunday’s drama at St. Andrews on the Old Course

The Old Course at St. Andrews is hosting the 150th Open Championship, with the final round set for Sunday. Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland were tied at 16 under par after Saturday. — Photo by Tom Reiter, special to The JB Replay.

By Tom Reiter
Special to The JB Replay

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — A rainy morning will soon become a cloudy, muggy day but nothing can diminish the excitement for the Rory/Viktor battle. Sitting in my favorite seat as the first group came to No. 2. The leaders will be by in about seven hours.

Editor’s note: Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and the leaders have teed off at St. Andrew’s. Tied at 16 under par after the third round, the two have separated slightly. McIlroy has assumed a two-shot lead on Hovland and Cameron Young through six holes. Cameron Smith is three off the pace.