Cameron Smith being interviewed after his win
28 year old Cameron Smith was arguably amongst the game’s elite even before his historic victory over an equally determined India’s Anirban Lahiri in today’s final round of the Players Championship, but his hard-fought one shot victory in golf’s richest tournament takes him to a career high 6th place in the world ranking, adds another US$3.6 million to his already bulging bank account and provides a five year exemption to the PGA Tour, amongst many other rewards.
Just six years after first joining the PGA Tour in 2016, Smith has amassed earnings of more than US$23 million but, more importantly, he has proven himself at the highest level by beating one of the game’s strongest fields and in the process, showing the sort of game, guts, determination and game that might well see him joining the likes of Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Jason Day as Australian world number ones in the years ahead, perhaps even sooner.
Smith has already displayed a capacity to contend at the pointy end of major championships having already recorded top five finishes on three occasions at the Masters and the US Open and given the manner in which he handled a demanding week of delays and, at times, horror conditions this week, suggests he may well be contending for a major title in 2022.
The first of those of course will be when he heads to Augusta National in three week’s time a venue which has already seen him finish runner-up and 5th.
Smith began today’s final round in a share of 7th place and two shots behind Lahiri who was looking for his first PGA Tour title and who began the week in 322nd place in the world ranking but jumped to 89th as a result of his brilliant week at the TPC Sawgrass.
Five birdies in his first six holes swept Smith to the lead today but Lahiri was not going away and when Smith bogeyed the 7th and 8th holes the pair was tied at 10 under. Lahiri struck trouble when he double-bogeyed the 8th and by the turn Smith who would also bogey the 9th was tied with Paul Casey at 9 under one ahead of Adam Hadwin, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Hovland and Lahiri.
Smith would begin his closing nine in the same manner he began his round, two and a half hours earlier. Four birdies from the 10th gave him the outright lead but neither Lahiri nor Casey were about to lay down.
Lahiri eagled the 11th from 15 feet and joined Smith in the lead although, soon after, Smith birdied the 12th to grab the lead again.
Smith always appeared to have the edge over the closing holes but it would be his stunning tee shot at the dangerous par 3 17th that set up a birdie and a three shot lead.
Lahiri would also birdie the 17th a few minutes later and although Smith found the water when laying up from the trees at the 18th, he managed to hit a magnificent 4th shot to three feet and when he converted for a bogey his lead was still one and Lahiri need a birdie to tie.
It was not to be and Smith was the winner by one shot over Lahiri with another shot back to Casey.
Smith’s press conference may be heard and watched below but he described his approach to the final round in this way.
“I think I just knew that the golf course was going to kind of let up a few — there were a few pin spots out there that were very gettable, and being the way that the course played with all the rain, just soft and sticky, I just knew I had to make plenty of birdies.
“I was a few behind, I think, going into the start of the round, and just needed to get after it basically.”
His elevation to 6th in the world is a tremendous accomplishment and Smith was asked how it feels.
“I feel as though I’m playing the best that I’ve ever played. It’s kind of weird to think like that, being kind of the — probably the last three or four years being the guy that kind of goes from 20th to 40th in the World Rankings, and then all of a sudden to be 6th is kind of weird.
“But I feel as though I’ve put in the work and I feel as though I’ve done a lot of work on my body and I’ve put in the time. Yeah, it’s nice to see all that stuff paying off.”
The final two holes at the TPC Sawgrass have provided plenty of drama over the years and today was no exception with Smith hitting a shot under the most intense of pressure to five feet and converting then hitting his escape from the trees on the 18th into the water.
“I mean, on 17 I hit a really good shot. The wind didn’t quite hit it as much as what I thought it was going to. Kind of left it alone there for a long time and just kind of helped me out there at the end.
“I’d be lying if I said I was aiming there. I was probably aiming 10 feet left of that. But still wanted to stay aggressive, still wanted to make birdie.
“18, just a hole for me that doesn’t really suit my eye. I like to work the ball left to right off the tee. That’s where I feel comfortable, and I feel as though I can’t hit that shot down there. Just haven’t quite figured that hole out.
“I hit Driver, just because I just wanted to get it down there as far as I could basically. If it did turn over, I was going to have a short shot in, and it just didn’t quite turn over.”
Lucas Herbert was the only other Australasian to make the cut and on debut he did well to do so despite finishing 68th.
Smith with his trophy – Getty Images