Cameron Smith doesn’t back down, sets record as Masters runner-up
Cameron Smith became the first golfer in the 84-year history of the Masters Tournament to shoot four rounds in the 60s at Augusta National Golf Club, and he still got lapped by five strokes.
That sums up how champion Dustin Johnson played, but also reflects how the 27-year-old Australian put up a valiant fight, cutting Johnson’s lead to two strokes before Johnson pulled away to finish at tournament-record 20-under-par 268. Smith closed in 3-under-par 69, to go along with earlier rounds of 67-68-69, and tied for second with South Korea’s Sungjae Im and earn his place in the tournament record books.
Photos: Cameron Smith's Sunday Round
“I’d take 15 under around here the rest of my career and I might win a couple,” said Smith, whose 72-hole aggregate score actually would have won all but five of 84 Masters (and forced a playoff with Patrick Reed in 2018).
On the eve of the final round, Smith, who was attempting to become the second Australian to win the Masters after Adam Scott in 2013, said he was going to come with guns blazing and he did just that, making birdie on two of the first three holes. He gave a stroke back with a bogey at No. 5 before making the first of two remarkable birdies from the Georgia pines.
At No. 7, he pushed his tee shot to the right and considered pitching out.
Instead he hoisted a wedge over the trees and it stopped 10 feet from the hole. Afterwards, several of those on site took turns admiring his fresh divot the way they marvel at the spot on No. 10 where Bubba Watson hit his gravity-defying wedge from the trees to win a playoff in 2012. Had Smith won, it may have been worthy of a plaque someday.
“I knew I had to keep the pressure on Dustin, and wasn’t here to finish second,” Smith said. “There was a small gap up there. The club was pretty good. Just had to hit it really hard and good, and it turned out well.”
At the ninth, Smith pulled off another Houdini act from the trees with a 9 iron from 155 yards that landed on the left fringe, caught the slope and trickled to within 4 feet of the hole for another birdie.
Smith, who went from 44th to 27th in the world rankings after the Masters, figured that if he could get to 16 under, Johnson’s score at the beginning of the day, he would have a decent chance to win a green jacket.
“I knew I had to put the pressure on early,” he said, “DJ was just too good in the end.”
Smith missed the green at the par-4 11th hole and failed to get up and down for par. It was one of the few times he failed to pull a rabbit out of his hat when he misfired.
“My scrambling, my chipping and putting was unreal this week,” he said, “probably the best it’s ever been.”
Smith’s effort to chase down Johnson stalled from there, though he tacked on a final birdie at No. 15 to send his score into the 60s for a fourth straight day.
“I felt as though I needed to shoot 3 or 4under on that back nine with the wind the way it was,” said Smith, who settled for an even-par 36. “It got pretty tricky out there. I would say after 16, 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. And wasn’t to be.”
Not to be this time, but Smith continues to knock on the door at the Masters, where he tied for fifth in 2018, and in majors, where he also recorded a top-five finish at the 2015 U.S. Open.
“He’s been a good player for a long time, but I think he’s really comfortable at it now,” fellow Aussie Marc Leishman said. “He’s going to be a great player for a long time. I would expect to see him on leaderboards here for a long time to come.”
Especially if he keeps shooting rounds in the 60s.
“I love the place,” Smith said. “I want to win here really badly, and I feel like it brings the best out of my game.”
Cameron Smith makes Masters history with four rounds in 60s to tie for second place
Cameron Smith made history Sunday in his attempt to chase down Dustin Johnson at the Masters Tournament.
The Australian became the first player to post four rounds in the 60s, ending with scores of 67-68-69-69 to shoot 15-under 273 and tie for second place with Sungjae Im. No player had achieved the feat in the 84-year history of the event.
“That's really cool,” Smith said. “I had no idea starting today that I needed to do that. I mean, I honestly can't believe it.”
Masters rookie Abraham Ancer also entered Sunday with a chance to post four sub-70 scores, but shot 76. Johnson, who finished 20-under par, the lowest in Masters Tournament history, shot three rounds in the 60s with a second-round 70.
“It would have been cooler to shoot (four rounds in the 60s) and win,” Smith said. “I was actually saying before that I'd take 15-under the rest of my career and I might win a couple.”
In 1953, Ben Hogan became the first player to record three rounds in the 60s. Following his third-round 66, Hogan said, “I’m not trying to set records. I’m just trying to win a tournament.”
Hogan’s 14-under total that year set the course record by five strokes, previously held by 1939 winner Ralph Guldahl. A day after the tournament, President Dwight Eisenhower flew to Augusta and was met at Bush Field Airport by Clifford Roberts. As Eisenhower exited his aircraft, the president greeted Roberts with a smile.
“Ben Hogan made fun of your course, didn’t he?” Eisenhower said.
The 1960s saw the Big Three each take a shot at achieving the mark, beginning with Gary Player in 1961. Augusta’s first international champion opened with rounds of 69-68-69 before closing with 74 en route to victory. Arnold Palmer mirrored Player in 1964, and Jack Nicklaus posted three sub-70 rounds in 1965 and 1975.
Nobody, however, has mastered the feat like three-time champ Phil Mickelson. On four occasions — 2001, 2004, 2010 and 2015 — Mickelson shot three rounds in the 60s, with 2001 being his best chance to make history. On Sunday that year, Mickelson had a putt on the 72nd hole to shoot 69, but missed his birdie attempt, and settled for 70.
- Doug Stutsman, For The Augusta Chronicle