“Smith won his first major on the historic St. Andrews course by swallowing Rory McIlroy, who was the clear leader the day before but almost couldn’t score in the fourth round, thus winning the first major of his career.
When I see the names engraved on this trophy, mine is there too… it’s incredible. I don’t have the words,” Smith said as he clutched the illustrious Claret Jug to his chest after signing a final round card of -8.
The 28-year-old finished the four rounds with a score of -20, one shot ahead of not McIlroy, but his playing partner, American Cameron Young. The Northern Irishman eventually finished third at two shots back.
I was beaten by the best player of the week,” said McIlroy. To play 64 to win a British Open at St. Andrews is quite a showing. Hats off to Cam!”
This season, Smith (world No. 6) had already won the Players Championship, the unofficial fifth Major, and shared third place at the Masters, the first Major of the year.
Then he shared 13th place at the PGA Championship but missed the cut at the US Open.
Meanwhile, McIlroy (World No. 2), who was still leading after the 13th hole but already tied with Smith, failed again to win a fifth Major. His last came at the 2014 PGA Championship.
“I had some great opportunities today to add a major title to my record, but I didn’t take them,” the 33-year-old admitted.
It looked like victory would be decided between McIlroy and Norway’s Viktor Hovland, who went into the final round sharing the lead by four shots over Cameron, Smith and Young.
But soon enough, as the two front runners were neutralizing each other, birdies began to rain down in the stretch ahead of them.
And at the turn of the course, it was an avalanche of birdies that rolled under Smith’s putter: he lined up five from hole 10 to 14 to take the lead by one stroke over McIlroy.
That lead grew to two points with a birdie on 18, which Smith needed to make to avoid a playoff against Young, who had just made an eagle on the last hole.
It must be said that the Australian, who did not make a single mistake on a card that included a total of 8 birdies, succeeded in everything, especially on the return.
Except for the drive on 15 that got away from him slightly on the right but which he brought back perfectly to save par, and an approach to the diabolical hole 17, which left him with a tricky but formidably successful third shot, putting from the outside of the green to skirt the deep bunker and follow it up with a controlled putt for par.
On the other hand, it was a frustrating day for McIlroy: no bogey on his card, but a multitude of putts passed or stopped within a few centimetres – or even millimetres – of the hole (at 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17) that could have earned him birdies or eagles.
“I don’t feel like I did much wrong, but the putter got away from me throughout the fourth round,” he lamented.
As for Hovland, he gradually but irretrievably dropped to finish six strokes behind the winner (+2 on Sunday 17 July) and shared 4th place with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood.