15 Nov 2020 | Professional golf |

Gutsy Smith defies Masters odds

by Mark Hayes

Masters rd 3 leaderboard_image

Scorecards rarely tell the best golfing tales – and Cam Smith’s couldn’t possibly do his Masters third round justice.

The Australian will head into the final round tomorrow in joint second place, four strokes behind the imperious Dustin Johnson, whose 16-under total ties Jordan’ Spieth’s record for the lowest 54-hole score at Augusta National.

But that Smith’s even in the same conversation is absolutely remarkable given a torrent of statistics that the Queenslander swam so gallantly against today.

The most rudimentary numbers are that Smith played a bogey-free 69 today, with three consecutive birdies from the 13th hole.

As Johnson breezed momentarily six clear of the Aussie with a second 65 in three rounds – another Masters record – it appeared as though Smith’s tilt at a first major championship crown was finished.

The birdies gave him life, but what followed will surely give him a more important commodity – belief.

From a tough lie in the rough with a ball well above his feet right of the 16th green and with almost no real estate with which to work, Smith played a delicate mini-flop that trickled to about 10 feet before a seemingly nerveless downhill par putt fell to maintain his momentum.

He tested that monumentally with a flared drive up 17, so far right that he had to play his second further right up the 15th fairway to give himself room to pitch his third back into play.

But he did so much more, nipping it again to 10 feet and calmly rolling in another par bomb dead centre.

Then a blocked approach to the short-side bunker on the last hole with its back-right pin position threatened to derail him again.

Smith, though, had clearly thrown away the script by this time.

His sand blast inside three feet and yet another par-saving putt kept the dual Australian PGA champ’s scorecard without a blemish, enabling him to stay level with his Presidents Cup teammates Abraham Ancer and Sungjae Im.

That they’re four back is problematic, but from Smith’s perspective, there’s still improvement left in his game while Johnson was nearly perfect today.

Smith hit seven fairways; Johnson hit all 14.

Smith hit 11 greens in regulation; Johnson hit 16 and was on the fringe of another.

And they each had 27 putts – so impressive from the American given Smith was so often scrambling from far closer to the pin.

Johnson said, simply, that he “did everything well”.

“I drove it well, gave myself a lot of chances (and was) really solid all day,” said Johnson, who has a history of blown chances at major championships, but appears in career-best form with three wins this year, including the PGA Tour Championship.

“It’s hard not to think about (wearing the green jacket), but once I get on the first tee tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about that shot and nothing else.”

Smith knows the challenge of running down the world No.1, but he’s braced for it.

“It’s what we dream about really, it’s why we want to play,” said the 27-year-old, who admitted his first 12 holes today – all pars – had been “boring golf”.

“I really just can’t wait for tomorrow … I’ll obviously need a hot start and the back nine has been kind to me all week so hopefully it can be kind one more day.”

The other Australians to make the cut both moved up the leaderboard today, but not far enough to be mentioned in title calculations.

Marc Leishman had four birdies, but gave two bogeys back in his 70 that left him at four under in a share of 26th.

Adam Scott also made his share of birdies, but lost a series of long shots right late in his round and bogeys on the seventh and eighth left him with a 71 and a share of 29th at three under.

Both did enough to move up to a first tee start for the final round, with Scott off at 11.50pm AEDT and Leishman in the next group at 12.01am AEDT.

Smith will be in the second-last group out off the first tee at 1.18am AEDT in a final round that will finish almost four hours before its normal timeslot to accommodate American television coverage of the NFL. LEADERBOARD

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