10 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Smith sets up Sunday showdown at The Masters

by PGA of Australia

Cameron Smith during the third round of The Masters.

By Tony Webeck

Cameron Smith has set up a Sunday showdown with world No.1 Scottie Scheffler after producing the round of the day in the third round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

Bitterly cold conditions and strong, gusty winds made conditions so difficult that Adam Scott shot 80 yet it was his fellow Queenslander who flourished to play his way into the final group.The first Australian to feature in the final group at The Masters since Stuart Appleby in 2007, Smith shot four-under 68 – the best of the day by two strokes – and will start the fourth round at six-under, three shots back of Scheffler (71) and two clear of Sungjae Im (71). Major champions Charl Schwartzel (73) and Shane Lowry (73) are two shots further back at two-under.

Thirty years since Craig Parry suffered at the hands of the parochial American galleries paired in the final group with ultimate champion Fred Couples, history is on Smith’s side.

Since 1992, 25 of the 30 winners of The Masters have come from the final pairing, Scheffler’s closing bogey after finding the trees left of the 18th fairway reducing the deficit Smith needs to make up by one.

The 28-year-old made 10 birdies in closing out THE PLAYERS Championship just three weeks ago and started the year by staring down then No.1 Jon Rahm at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, experience he will call upon as he seeks to join Scott as the only Masters champions from Australia.

“It just means I can get it done I guess when I’m up against the best guys in the world,” said the world No.6, who can supplant Scheffler as the best player in the world with a win.

“It’s a good feeling to have. It’s earned. It’s not given to you.

“I’m going to have to go out there tomorrow and play really good golf again, probably similar to today. Hopefully everything just falls into place.

“I can’t control what anyone else is going to do tomorrow. Just go out there and really focus on myself.”

Smith played in the second-to-last group when runner-up to Dustin Johnson in 2020 in a final round unique in that it was played in three-balls in November.

He began Saturday six strokes back of Scheffler and began chipping away at the margin early, playing an exquisite pitch from the right of the green at the par-5 second to four feet and converting that birdie chance.

Smith birdied the par-3 sixth from 15 feet, added another when he his pitch from 66 yards gave him a birdie look from 12 feet at eight and made it three in the space of five holes when his approach from 171 yards skipped around the hole and came to rest seven feet from the cup at 10.

Wedge-game wizardry produced birdies at the par 5 13th and 15th holes, the latter of which helped to cut the margin to just three.

A bogey after finding the bunker right of the par-3 16th and Scheffler’s birdie at 13 restored the Texan’s five-shot buffer, bogeys at 14, 15 and the final hole helping to bring Smith back to within reach.

As Tiger Woods had five three-putts for the first time in his career Smith didn’t have one, and his record at The Masters and performances in the game’s biggest events make him a man for Scheffler to fear.

“I don’t know of another player that I’ve ever seen that seems as impervious to pressure as Cameron Smith,” Brandel Chamblee said on NBC’s Live From The Masters.

“I’ve never seen him succumb to pressure. When he was second here at The Masters he had a chance to win; he didn’t go out and play poorly at all. Never seemed to be bothered by the moment.

“It didn’t diminish him. Same thing at THE PLAYERS Championship. He goes out there and makes a slew of birdies to begin, a slew of birdies to begin the back nine, made 10 birdies, if you were ever going to feel the nerves at the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS Championship with a two-shot lead, wouldn’t you be looking 30 feet left?

“Tomorrow is a lot about talent but it’s about who is the most relaxed.”

“Smith is not going to back off,” added fellow analyst Paul McGinley. “We know that. We have seen this before.

“This guy is a born, natural competitor with a brilliant short game really well suited to playing Augusta National.”

Smith’s focus? More of the same, and giving those back home in Australia something to cheer about in the early hours of Monday morning.

“I’ve been watching this tournament since I can remember. Hopefully everyone gets up early and I can make some birdies,” Smith said of his home-country support.

“I’ll just try and keep it as simple as I can, try and keep it the same. Shoot the lowest score out there again tomorrow probably.

“I think it’s not going to be as windy tomorrow. Typically here on Sunday, especially the back nine, you can use plenty of greens to your advantage and have plenty of birdie opportunities.

“Just stay aggressive into the greens and just keep hitting quality shots.”

Australians will book-end the final round of The Masters with Scott (80) and Cam Davis (79) out in the first group at 12.10am AEST while Min Woo Lee advanced his position in the field with a round of 72, the West Australian to play with American JJ Spaun from 2.30am.

One of just seven players to break par on Saturday, Marc Leishman (71) is paired with Talor Gooch at 3am with Smith and Scheffler to tee off at 4.40am.

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