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.”

Tiger’s last walk at St. Andrews? Woods is met by deafening cheers

By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay

Early Friday morning in Scotland, a light rain fell softly, leading to a reshuffling of the leaderboard at the 150th Open Championship. By mid-afternoon, cheers from the fans deluged one of golf’s greatest players.

A few hours after Dustin Johnson and a few others seized an opportunity to make a raft of birdies, legendary Tiger Woods took a walk up the 18th fairway. He was drenched in admiration from the fans on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Cheering wildly, the paying customers hailed the 46-year-old Woods not only for his valiant effort to overcome crippling injuries suffered in an automobile accident 17 months ago, but also for his excellence, and for the memories he has supplied over the past 25 years.

In a television interview after the round, Woods, a winner of 15 major championships, shrugged off the fact that he had missed the cut and that he struggled mightily with his game over the past two days.

“Anytime you get a chance to come back and play the Old Course, in the Open, it’s just special,” Woods told a reporter for NBC television. “It really is.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be doing this since 1995. I don’t know if I’ll be physically able to play another British Open here at St. Andrews. I certainly feel like I’ll be able to play more British Opens.

“But I don’t know if I’ll be around when it comes back around here.”

The Open is one of golf’s four majors. It rotates between other courses in and around Great Britain. Reportedly, the soonest it could come back to St. Andrews would be in 2027.

Woods acknowledged that the ovation on perhaps his last walk up the 18th fairway touched his heart.

“The warmth and the ovation at 18, it got to me,” he said. “It was just incredible, just the amount of understanding and respect from all the people in this event, (all of them) that come out and support it. (From) the players.

“The nods I was getting as the players were going out (on the course). I looked over there and, you know, Rory (McIlroy) gave me a tip of the cap. JT (Justin Thomas) did the same. It’s just, there’s something to it, that’s just different.”

Woods, whose play has been sporadic this year in coming back from the injury, admitted he is “a little ticked” that he doesn’t get to play the final two rounds of the tournament.

“I certainly didn’t play good enough to be around,” he said. “I wish I would have played better. I wish I had had a little bit better break in the first hole yesterday … maybe started off a little bit better, but that’s just kind of how it all went. It just kind of never materialized.

“I fought hard, and unfortunately, I just could never turn it around. I struggled with the greens again today. I could never hit putts hard enough. I was leaving them short again. So, consequently, I didn’t make enough birdies.”

Editor’s note

Thanks again to U.S. golf fans Tom Reiter and his friend John Conway, who have been on the scene in St. Andrews since Monday. Both have worked to supply fans in San Antonio with original content from The Open.

Tom Reiter (left) and John Conway. — Photo special to The JB Replay

Reiter, who in the 1970s served as the editor of The Ranger at San Antonio College, has been sending essays and journals. Both have forwarded photos. Great work by a dynamic duo.

Rainy morning

A rainy Friday morning in Scotland, along with softer fairways and greens on the Old Course at St. Andrews, apparently proved beneficial to a host of golfers, who charged up the leaderboard early on the second day of the tournament.

Johnson made the most of the situation, rallying from four shots behind at the start of the day and into a one-shot lead midway through round two. Johnson opened with a first-round score of 68 on Thursday and then backed it up with a 67.

With the performance, the name of the LIV Golf series standout moved atop the leaderboard at nine under par.

“I played really well,” Johnson told a NBC television news reporter. “I think I hit all the greens. I had a lot of really, really good looks at birdies. I missed quite a few short ones. But I made some nice putts, too.”