10 Jan 2022 | Professional golf |

Smith begins 2022 with record-breaking win

by Dane Heverin

Cameron Smith wins the first tournament of the year.

Cameron Smith has shot the lowest score in PGA Tour history to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort in Maui.

Smith, 28, finished one stroke ahead of world number one Jon Rahm at 34-under par for the tournament to win for the fourth time on the PGA Tour - the second time individually - and move into the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time.

“Mate, it was intense,” Smith said of his eight-under par final round. 

“Jonny (Rahm) and I played well the whole day and we had Matty (Jones) in the group in front lighting it up as well. An unreal round. Something I’ll never forget for sure.”

Hawaii, which the Queenslander said “is as close as we get to home on the PGA Tour” has proven to be his happy hunting ground on Tour - he won the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2020 - and it was the perfect setting for him to go toe-to-toe with Rahm.

The final pairing entered the last day with a share of the lead and Smith immediately got on the front foot with a tight-approach at the par-4 fourth to make birdie.

“It was nice to give some punches back and give him something to think about,” Smith said.

His lead grew to two shots courtesy of a 23-foot birdie putt at the par-3 eighth and from there he rolled with the punches as the Spaniard hit back.

Rahm’s birdie at the par-3 11th reduced Smith’s lead to one and with no more par-3s to come the pressure was on the Australian’s driver.

Smith admitted that the big stick let him down at times last year and he spent extra time on the range trying to correct his issues during the off season.

“I guess I’m lazy on the range. I get through the wedges and the irons and then I’m like ‘I’m ready to go home’,” he said.

“I barely hit the driver so I made sure I stayed there for an extra 10 or 15 minutes and actually hit some more balls.

“My irons I’ve always felt comfortable with and my wedges. I knew that if I could finally sort out my driver that I could really have one of my best seasons yet.”

The work paid off in his first examination of the season as Smith consistently found the fairway in the closing stretch to allow his sensational short game to go to work.

“I felt like I couldn’t miss a shot or Jon would overtake me,” Smith said.

He never gave Rahm the chance as a tight approach on the 13th and two long eagle attempts that left tap-ins at the 14th and 15th secured birdies to keep Rahm at bay.

At the final hole - Kapalua’s picturesque 675 yard downhill par-5 - Smith calmly rolled his eagle putt from 88 feet down the slope to within 4 feet of the cup and knocked it in for birdie to become the fourth Australian - after Steve Elkington, Stuart Appelby and Geoff Ogilvy - to win the calendar-year opening event.

There were no extravagant celebrations from the typically humble Smith, just a hug and a handshake for both his caddie, Sam Pinfold, and Rahm.

“I’ve been brought up to be the modest guys that respects everyone,” he said. 

“Even today out there, Jonny was great as well, every time we made a putt or a birdie it was always ‘good shot mate’. 

“There was never any hatred towards each other just because we were competing. We wanted to win because we wanted to compete against the best.” 

Smith’s understated manner also meant that he has no grand plans for what to do with the $2.05 million he has just banked.

“Maybe a new car for Mum,” he said.

It was also a great week for Australian Matt Jones who broke the record for the lowest 36-hole score to par in PGA Tour history.

The Sydneysider played breathtaking golf across the weekend to card four eagles and 15 birdies in his 11-under par third round of 62 and 12-under par final round of 61.

Jones finished two shots behind Smith in third place, while countrymen Cam Davis and Marc Leishman shared tenth position at 23-under par to round out an impressive start for four of Australia’s leading men’s professionals.

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