16 Nov 2020 | Professional golf |
Smith's stunner just short
by Mark Hayes
In Masters history, only six men have bettered Australian Cameron Smith’s 15-under total.
Remarkably, to cap a crazy men’s season, it was good enough today for only second to Dustin Johnson, who turned in one of the great major championship performances for a five-shot victory.
The world No.1 fended off early runs by both Smith and Korean Sungjae Im, then careered away to post 20 under – the lowest total score at Augusta National and the equal lowest score to par in major championship golf, matching Jason Day at the US PGA in 2015 and Henrik Stenson at the Open in 2016.
Smith and Im each carded final-round 69s to share a mark that’s normally more than enough to pull on a green jacket – their 273 totals the lowest not to win the crown.
Smith, a proud member of Brisbane's Wantima Golf Club, even became the first player in Masters history to break 70 all four rounds, proving further the remarkable achievements of all three podium finishers.
The Presidents Cup teammates each closed the gap to two at multiple times after starting the day four behind Johnson.
But the American was bulletproof on the back nine, playing it in three under despite having the handbrake on with a second major title in his sights.
“As a kid, (I was) dreaming about winning the Masters, having Tiger put the green jacket on me – it still seems like it’s a dream,” said Johnson, who set another Masters record with just four bogeys for the week.
“But I’m here, what a great feeling it is and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Smith was exemplary throughout the week and looked as if he might get the ultimate reward when he made birdies on the second and third holes with Johnson showing early nerves.
He made a bogey on the fifth, but spectacular birdies on both the seventh and ninth renewed his hopes.
But just after his par putt on the 11th slid by the cup, Johnson’s nerves seemed to disappear once and for all and the back nine battle Australia had longed for didn’t fully blossom.
Right to the end, though, Smith dazzled with his recovery skills.
After snap-hooking his second to the par-five 15th, he played a pitch from behind where the grandstand customarily sits left of the Sarazen Bridge to about 4m and rolled in a birdie.
And even on the final hole, his little chip from off the front of green came within millimetres of another unlikely birdie.
“It was pretty solid,” Smith said in typically humble fashion.
“I wouldn’t say I brought my best stuff, especially the long stuff, I felt l struggled with the driver this week.
“But my scrambling – my chipping and putting – was unreal this week, probably the best it’s ever been.
“A lot of good stuff, but also a lot of stuff to work on.”
Smith said news of his scoring record was “really cool”.
“I honestly can’t believe it … I just put it down to scrambling and digging deep.
“There were a few times this week that I could have let it slip away and it didn’t.”
Smith became the seventh Aussie to finish in the top two of the Masters and it was his third top-five finish in majors after his fifth at Augusta National in 2018 and his share of fourth on debut at the US Open in 2015.
Smith said his original goal today had been to reach Johnson’s starting mark of 16 under, in an attempt to force the eventual winner to make some shots.
“I knew I had to put the pressure on early. I got out of the gates pretty good but `DJ’ was just too good at the end.
“I felt as though I needed to shoot three or four under on that back nine with the wind the way it was, it got pretty tricky out there.
“I would say after not birdieing 16, I thought if I birdied the last four, I thought I would still have a chance. At least make him think about it. But it wasn't to be.
“It would have been cool to do that and win.
“I'd take 15 under around here the rest of my career and I might win a couple.”
Of the other Australians, Marc Leishman briefly rose as high as seventh on the leaderboard before the lead groups played the final six holes.
The Victorian ultimately finished in a share of 13th at eight under after a rollercoaster final round that yielded two eagles, two birdies and two bogeys among his 68.
Adam Scott finished T34 at two under after his closing 73 that was also a thrill ride with four birdies and five bogeys.
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