Cameron Smith – file photo
Queensland’s Cameron Smith heads into tomorrow’s final round of the 2020 Masters in a share of second position and although four shots behind the world number one, Dustin Johnson, the 27 year old is not yet without his chances of winning a first major championship.
After beginning the third round tied for the lead with Johnson, Abraham Ancer, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm, Smith was treading water for much of his round with 12 consecutive pars until a stretch of three birdies on the hop in the middle of his back nine swept him into final round contention.
The first of those came when holing from 10 feet at the par 5 13th after being forced to lay up from the trees, then came a 12 footer a beautifully played approach at the 14th and then came an up and down birdie from just off the back of the green at the 15th.
While the birdies were important for Smith’s chances tomorrow, perhaps equally as important were his brilliant par saves at the last three holes to keep him in touch.
At the 16th Smith missed the par 3 in what seemed and impossible position and initially it appeared a par would be a good result. He holed a nice 12 footer for par after a very good chip from a downhill lie in the rough but at the next it appeared his bogey free round was again under threat.
His wild drive at the 17th meant he would do well just to get himself back in play but he chose to hit a high hook over the trees from alongside the adjacent fairway, finished 80 yards or so from the flag, pitched to 14 feet and again made the par saving putt.
At the last and after a superb drive, Smith lost his approach into the right hand greenside bunker but once again his impressive short game came to the rescue. He blasted to four feet and converted to finish four shots behind the rampant Dustin Johnson whose play to date suggests a second major is just 18 holes away for the world number one.
Cameron Smith saving par from the bunker at the last – Getty Images
Smith has often shown a capacity to play big events well. Not only has he finished 5th in this event previously but it was at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay where he perhaps boxed event further above his weight when hitting a second shot to the par 5 last to 3 feet to secure an eagle which would eventually play a key role in him securing a PGA Tour card.
We saw another shot like that from Smith on Friday when his 7 wood approach at the par 5 15th finished 2 feet from the hole, the resultant eagle setting off a run of three birdies to finish and sweeping him into the lead before darkness stopped play that day.
Smith shares second place with Sungjae Im and Abraham Ancer but while all three will be interested in the prospect of chasing down the game’s dominant player at present, Johnson, so too must they be aware of those behind as nine additional players are within four shots of second place.
“It’s what we dream about,” said Smith. “I 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 to me for one more day.”
Whatever happens tomorrow, for Smith this week is a further example of the relatively young PGA Tour player continuing to make his name at the highest level. He is very much a no fuss player who just gets on with the job and taking advantage of a game that is built around imagination and fine short game skills. Tomorrow he will need all of those and more.
Dustin Johnson in action today – playing almost faultless golf – Getty Images
The leader, Johnson, has been in outstanding form of late and having finished inside the top ten in his last four starts including when runner-up last year, his chances appeared strong heading into the week and are now looking significantly stronger.
He has recorded just two bogeys in 54 holes to go with two eagles and 14 birdies and has looked very measured and calm in the manner in which he is going about his business.
Given Johnson’s domination of the first 54 holes it is hard to imagine he is going to make the sort of mistakes he will need to if his chasers have any chance of catching him.
This is, though, the Masters and there have been several examples, even in the modern era, of leads the equal of and greater than Johnson’s been lost over the closing 18 holes on a golf course that gives with one hand and takes with the other.
“I feel my game is very consistent now,” said Johnson today. “I have a lot of control of what I am doing in terms of distance, flight and shape of shots.”
“You have to hit it the right distance – it’s the biggest key around here especially on the par 3’s and I think I have done a pretty good job of that.
“It is easier to do with the conditions being soft but you have to be aggressive and attack the flags as long as you feel confident as to how far you are going to fly it.
“Going into tomorrow I have a good game plan and I am not going to change it. I am going to have to go out and play well. There are a lot of good players around me so I am going to have to play well if I want to win it.”
“There’s still a long way to go but to win it would mean a lot,” added Johnson when asked that very question. “I mean it’s the Masters, it’s a major, I grew up down the road so this one would be very special to me
“I’ve put myself in this situation a lot of times, I know what it takes and how I respond and I am very comfortable with the lead.”