Patrick Reed’s Masters victory today takes him to another level in the game, moving the 27 year old to 11th in the world ranking from his previous 24th and although he has been as high as 7th 18 months ago, this win takes him to a level in the game both in reality and perception that he has never been to previously.
As a major champion he joins a particularly elite group of the game’s best and perhaps even more so as a winner of the Masters.
While all the talk internationally will be on the breakthrough major championship for the feisty now six-time PGA Tour title winner and his showdown with Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, for Australians the performance of both Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman remain as their highlights from the 2018 Masters.
Both Smith and Leishman stormed home over the closing few holes of the Augusta National layout to finish tied 5th and 9th respectively today, Smith in particular continuing to build on his reputation as a player capable of joining the elite of the game himself in the years ahead.
Brisbane’s, Smith, was playing in just his 7th major championship, his first appearance when 4th at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay essentially launching him onto the world stage for the first time, eventually that effort earning him the right to play the PGA Tour in 2016.
It was that performance that also gained him his first start at Augusta National in 2016. The leading four players at the previous year’s US Open are automatically invited to the Masters and Smith did well when making the cut on debut.
A third round of 82 that year was a little hard to take but importantly he had learned so much in that first year about the nuances and subtleties of the great layout to stand him in such good stead the next time round.
Back in 2018 as a considerably more experienced and skilled player he slowly but surely worked his way into the tournament and after comfortably making the weekend by finishing six shots inside the cutline he had established a base on which to build over the final 36 holes.
Round three was going very nicely until two late bogeys but at 3 under he was nicely poised to post one of his best major championship finishes and further his credentials for the road ahead.
Sunday however would see much better than that. Only two players, Paul Casey and Jordan Spieth, would better his final round 66 although a missed four-footer at the last proved both frustrating and costly for Smith.
His back nine of 30 however was sensational, a run of four consecutive birdies from the 12th setting up the brilliant closing nine holes.
“I saw a good putt go in on the 10th and that set things up for the rest of the back nine,” he said after his round today. “I hit a really good shot into 16 also and came up a little short but 6 under around here on the back nine I will take any day.
“The best part of today was to get a little bit of confidence going into next week with the driver. I struggled with that earlier in the week but hit it really good today so that is perhaps the best thing I will take out of today.”
Smith moves to 39th in the world ranking his highest standing ever, he earns US$368,000, takes his career earnings in the US to well over US$ 5 million and importantly gets another crack at the Masters in 2019.
Getting to know Cameron Smith
Smith took to the game like a duck to water when first introduced by his father at the age of 3 and after winning the Australian Stroke-play twice in 2011 and 2012 and the Australian Amateur Championship in 2013 he quickly adapted to professional life in 2014 after gaining his Asian Tour card early that year.
He finished runner-up to Anirban Lahiri in one of the early season events in Jakarta and he was on his way. It would however be a 5th place finish at the CIMB Classic late in the Asian Tour season, an event jointly sanctioned with the PGA Tour that elevated his standing even further.
As a result of that finish he had a start on the PGA tour and with his management company working overtime more would come. A 15th place finish at Hilton Head helped his cause but it was his big cheque at Chambers Bay that changed his direction.
His first PGA Tour win came in 2017 when partnering Swede Jonas Blixt to victory in a tournament in New Orleans but his first professional victory on his own came when winning the Australian PGA Championship in a playoff (see photo above) against Jordan Zunic last December.
At home also he so nearly won the 2016 Australian Open when losing a playoff to Jordan Spieth and Ashley Hall at Royal Sydney but it is in the US where he keeps stepping up to the plate and in some respects ‘boxing above his weight’.
His first individual win in the US must come soon and there will be little surprise when it does either from his peers or the golfing public generally who are becoming increasingly aware of the considerable game and mindset he possesses.
Next week for Smith will be the RBC Heritage Classic at Hilton Head a course he has played well previously and the style of course that should suit his game admirably. That first solo win might not be so far away.
Leishman, too, must take a lot of credit for the manner in which he fought back after losing his way early in round 4, four late birdies moving him to 8 under and into a share of 9th.
Like Smith, Leishman flies under the radar to a large extent but he has now earned US$21.5 million in earnings on the USPGA Tour alone and is regularly putting himself into contention in major championships.
His unflappable manner and significant game must surely be rewarded with a major at some stage and that may well be sooner rather than later.
Australians did well at the 2018 Masters. It was not the most expected who were to the fore, however, but rather others who might do even better in the future.