Smith’s disappointing day began with a three-putt here at the first. Photo R&A via Getty Images
Cameron Smith took a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland into round three at the Open Championship and walked from the 18th green four shots behind that pair, although, despite an unexpected round of 1 over par 73, he cannot be considered out of contention for a first major title.
After such a magnificent putting display in yesterday’s second round where he created a PGA Tour record for distance of putts holed in any one round, the putter deserted him on day three, beginning at the very first hole where a 3 putt from 30 feet set the tone for a disappointing day.
The killer for Smith, however, would come at the 13th where he struggled to a double bogey 6 after a journey down the left rough left him with still 30 feet for bogey. He missed and he had fallen four shots from the lead of Hovland and McIlroy at that point.
A missed opportunity from 9 feet at the last cost him an important boost heading into tomorrow and he might consider a different option from the tee there having played his second from well back on both Friday and Saturday.
Still for Smith, however, it is now a case of convincing himself of the glass still being half full rather then half empty. He showed on Friday that a very low round is not beyond him over the layout and although he will need one to defeat McIlroy, in particular, golf does work in strange ways.
“It was just one of those days,” said a disappointed Smith. “Unfortunately, the golfing gods weren’t with me today. I felt as though I hit lots of good putts. Just nothing was really dropping. Yeah, quite the opposite to the first couple of days, which is pretty hard to take on the chin.
“It’s always hard to back up a good round. You know, to have one like that was definitely frustrating, but it will definitely motivate me tomorrow.
“I hit the ball as good as I did the first couple of days but the putts just didn’t go in.
“I love making birdies. I love making putts. That’s what I need to go out there and do tomorrow. I need to stay aggressive. Maybe a slightly different game plan off a couple of tees and just try and make a ton of birdies.”
Adam Scott kept himself within a very low round of potential contention tomorrow when he added a third round of 70 to move to 9 under and he is within seven. Admittedly he will need something very special if he is to have any chance but he is not without hope of a very high finish.
“I just didn’t hit good enough shots early on,” said Scott. “Just a hair off. Drove it in a bunker early on 4 and did well to make bogey. Then, yeah, a poor shot off 7 and not a good recovery shot and an even worse putt and another bogey. Did well to make another bogey.
“It just didn’t go the way I needed it to go the first seven holes today. That has to change tomorrow if I want to dream of playing with anything on the line on the back nine.
“I mean, there’s a lot of good golf in there. I just made the errors early today, and I guess some experience tells me that, when you’re playing good, you keep a calm head and work all the way in and you can post a respectable score, which I did.
“But I need to get out of my own way as much as possible tomorrow heading out. If it’s possible to attack a couple of pins, maybe attack a couple pins and have a bit of fun and try and shoot 6- or 7-under somehow on the front nine and put myself in the mix with nine to go.”
Anthony Quayle, playing his first open Championship and first major, produced a very impressive round of 68 to be the next best Australian in 24th place where he is tied with Min Woo Lee and Lucas Herbert who both finished with rounds of 73.
Quayle had his Japan Tour colleague Brendan Jones on the bag today after Jones had been sick on day two but was back on the bag today, the pair agreeing a few weeks ago for one to caddy for the other if either qualified for the event. Jones has been one of the most successful foreign golfers in Japan over the last 20 years.
Brad Kennedy continued his solid week with a round of 72 to be at 4 under and tied for 34th and Jason Scrivener improved his overnight position with a round of 71 to be tied for 55th.
But Smith and Scott are chasing a very much in-form Rory McIlroy and Patrick Hovland, the latter of whom is playing in just his second Open Championship after finishing 12th on debut in 2021.
“The support that I’ve gotten this week has been absolutely incredible,” said McIlroy. “I appreciate it and I feel it out there. But at the same time I’m trying my hardest just to stay in my own little world because that’s the best way for me to get the best out of myself. I try to acknowledge as much as I can but I’m just trying to stay in my process, stay in my own little bubble and I just have to do that for one more day.
“I just have to just stick to my game plan, stick to the process. The more people bring up the result, the more I’m just going to harp on about process and sticking to my game plan, because that’s the only thing I can do, and I’ve done that well for the last three days. And it’s put me in this position. I just need to do it for one more day.”
Hovland is thriving in the atmosphere created by playing with crowd favourite Rory McIlroy who he played with in the penultimate group today but who he will duel with in the final group tomorrow.
When asked as to his feeling of being the other guy out there because of McIlroy’s popularity Hovland responded;
“I don’t mind. It doesn’t take the pressure off of anything, but I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup last year. And at the end of the day, they’re — well, there’s still some shouts there for me as well. So I appreciate those. At the end of the day, I’ve just got to play my game and not worry about anything else.
“I mean, it’s pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA TOUR, European Tour, for that matter major championships. Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is — yeah, I have to pinch myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hold back tomorrow.”
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland – together today and again tomorrow – photo R&A via Getty Images