Vousden’s 150th Open

Thought for the Day
When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give the right things a chance to catch you

Oh Yes! Cameron
Whisper it quietly but the final rounds of major championships can often be a little dull. A front-runner establishes themselves early in the day and, in their efforts to catch him the pursuers take chances they wouldn’t otherwise take which, more often than not, lead to disaster.

What we don’t often see is a golfer come from four strokes back to shoot the round of their life and win by a stroke, yet that is what the apparently nerveless Cameron Smith, who seems to have a resting pulse of about 30 and who no doubt sleeps in a coffin, did at St Andrews in The Open.

Because it was the 150th Championship, and therefore played in this most iconic corner of Fife, and because the weather was uncharacteristically perfect, and because so many excellent players rose to the top of the leaderboard, but most of all because local favourite Rory McIlroy was joint leader after 54 holes, everything was set up perfectly.

And events very nearly followed the fairytale script. The exception being a charming, pugnacious yet eminently likeable Aussie who showed determination and guts, along with superb play with just about every club in the bag, except his putter – which is surely so generously sprinkled with angel dust that the word ‘superb’ doesn’t come anywhere near doing it justice.

But of course, it is never the club that is responsible but the man wielding it and Smith’s mastery, for three rounds anyway, was such that 10-foot putts were virtually gimmes, 20-footers were strongly fancied to fall and anything longer, if it didn’t go in, settled within two feet.

Rory’s lag putting was equally impressive but the one doubt in my mind as he set out on the final day is that Cam Smith had had his bad round, on Saturday, while Rory played almost flawless golf on an all three days. It is extraordinarily difficult to do that for all four rounds. Nevertheless, the pressure of being front-runner in an event he so desperately wants to win eventually got to him. Two-under par in the last round, in perfect scoring conditions, is nowhere near enough for someone of his talent. With the exception of Victor Hovland, every player down to Francesco Molinari, who finished tied 15th, scored better than McIlroy.

The R&A, and no doubt every traditionalist in golf, will be delighted that their worst nightmare never came to pass – a player who has defected to the LIV series lifting the claret jug. The nearest challengers were Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, who finished tied 6th and tied 8th respectively. Johnson battled a cold putter and Bryson only really came to our attention with a too little, too late 66 on Sunday.

Every one of Rory McIlroy’s fans will be bitterly disappointed, as will the man himself but, although it will take a few days for a sense of perspective to take hold, he has gradually, since the start of the year, rediscovered something near his best form. For 54 holes he looked calm, measured and in complete control of both his game and emotions. Even in the last round, when putts refused to drop and the dicer stubbornly resisted falling in his favour, he retained a relaxed demeanour. He, like the rest of us, would have believed that if he could just stay patient, something would eventually go his way and kick-start a birdie blitz but it was not to be.

Cameron Smith hasn’t come from nowhere but served a tough apprenticeship since turning pro in 2013. He has now won six times on the PGA Tour, including the Players’ Championship earlier this year and he was joint runner-up to Dustin Johnson in the Masters two years ago. It was obvious he has the game to win a major but the unknowable for all golfers is whether they can catch lightning in a bottle and hit their absolute best form during one of the four weeks of the calendar that count above all others.

There is a rollcall of great final rounds in The Open, including the greatest of them all in 1977 at Turnberry when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus played the greatest major of all time. And in more recent memory we have seen stunning final rounds by Henrik Stenson in 2016 and Jordan Spieth a year later. Cameron Smith’s 2022 exploits will rightly be bracketed alongside these tremendous examples of competitive talent, nerve and spectacle.

Quote of the Week
I believe the real reason St. Andrews Old Course is infinitely superior to anything else is owing to the fact that it was constructed when no one knew anything about the subject at all, and since then it has been considered too sacred to be touched. What a pity it is that the natural advantages of many seaside courses have been neutralised by bad design and construction work.
Dr Alister MacKenzie

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