CAMERON SMITH’S maiden US PGA TOUR victory this week probably couldn’t have been a more drawn-out, painful ride if it was professionally scripted and it certainly had the 23 year old Aussie at first speechless beside the 18th green after sinking the winning playoff birdie putt, and then in tears at the ceremony.
Smith and his Swedish teammate Jonas Blixt started the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Sunday with a four stroke lead but then had to watch their playing partners and chief rivals Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown birdie 10 of their first 11 holes in the best ball format.
There was also a small matter of a 6 ½ hour weather delay for a wild storm that saw the course evacuated of spectators before the “Rest of the World” team fought back to be one up with Smith a couple of feet from the 18th hole for a birdie and Kisner, who had had an incredible personal string of birdies, off the green and needing an unlikely eagle on the par five to force a playoff.
The 33 year old American did it, with a rocket of a chip that we previously said would have finished in the next county if it hadn’t hit the flag pole and disappeared into the hole.
Whilst Kisner and Brown celebrated wildly it was obviously a hugely draining moment for the Aussie and the Swede, who at least had the experience of two previous TOUR wins.
Darkness had fallen by that stage and the sudden death playoff was put off till 9am the next morning. That was 11pm Monday night on the Aussie east coast and we thought it would all be over relatively quickly.
The first playoff hole was a replay of the 18th, a hole the Americans had recorded three birdies and an eagle on in regulation while their opponents had three birdies and a lone par (on a scorecard that contained no bogies at all for the week of best ball and alternate stroke rounds).
Incredibly, all four golfers missed birdie opportunities the first time up the 18th, the second time, and when they switched to the par three 9th (where both Smith and Blixt were within 12 feet).
Back up the 18th and all four were nearabouts the pin for three, but the first three birdie attempts again missed.
It was left to the comparatively inexperienced Smith, who had put himself within four feet of the hole, to finally claim his first big win.
When the US TV broadcaster attempted to do the traditional greenside interview shortly afterwards Blixt was okay commenting on their triumph but Smith was literally unable to speak. His playing partner had to step in and answer for him, saying what a career changing moment it was for the young Aussie.
Smith and Blixt Greenside Interview Video
“It was pretty cool to knock the putt in for the win,” a more composed Smith said later.
“To have a putt to win on the PGA TOUR when you’ve been working toward it your whole life is a completely different feeling. It felt like the longest (3 1/2-foot) putt I’ve ever hit.”
The putt meant US$1.02 million and 400 FedExCup points for each winner and also saw Smith gain a spot in The Players Championship next week, the US PGA Championship, and, importantly, a two year TOUR exemption.
The Zurich Classic was the first team event on the TOUR since 1981 and had a very popular reception.