Cameron Smith put together one of the great rounds in major history to become Champion Golfer of the Year at The 150th Open.
The Australian started the final day four strokes back from Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland but shot an incredible 64, which featured five birdies in a row at the beginning of the back nine and another on 18, to overhaul McIlroy and fend off Cameron Young by a stroke.
His finishing score of 20-under-par matched Henrik Stenson’s winning number from Royal Troon six years ago and is the joint-best score to par in Open history, and the lowest at St Andrews.
Smith is also the first Australian to become Champion Golfer since Greg Norman in 1993 and in the process shot the lowest fourth round by a champion in St Andrews history, surpassing Zach Johnson’s 66 in 2015.
Smith was three shots back from McIlroy at the beginning of the back nine but he switched his putter on when it mattered most, holing putts from five, 16, 11, 18 and five feet to swing the Championship his way.
But it was his par save on 17 that stood out, an ice-cold putt from 10 feet that he stroked into the bottom of the cup, and he finished with a flourish, a gorgeous putt from off the green helping to set up another birdie.
That came just seconds after his playing partner Young holed an eagle to finish on 19-under-par, and McIlroy missed a birdie putt to get to the same score on 17.
McIlroy needed an eagle on the last to force a play-off but had to settle for par, leaving Smith as the Champion Golfer of the Year.
SMITH PRODUCES PEERLESS DISPLAY
Smith set out knowing a round reminiscent of the 64 he shot on Friday would be required to put pressure on the group ahead of him and set his stall out early.
The Australian made just two birdies throughout Saturday but had matched that tally five holes in to his final round, taking advantage of the par-5 5th to move to 14-under-par.
A steady run of pars took him to the turn, Smith regularly judging his first putts to perfection to take the pressure off his second – particularly on the vast green of the par-3 8th, when he saved a crucial par from more than 80 feet.
Having been steady and consistent through his first nine, Smith put his foot down at the turn and was soon an unstoppable force. A superb chip on the 10th proved a turning point, setting himself up for the first of five consecutive birdies that turned the tide on the east Fife coast.
A 16-footer landed at the par-3 11th before he located the green with a 333-yard drive at 12, rolling home in two putts to find himself within a stroke of the lead.
Smith double bogeyed the 13th in his third round but banished those memories with a birdie to draw level and the lead was his own when he found the back of the 14th green with his second shot and confidently two-putted from 30 yards.
Pars at 15 and 16 saw him head to the notorious Road Hole, again proving the hardest on the course in terms of average scoring, with a lead to hold on to.
The 17th has ended plenty of challenges across the years and Smith must have been fearful of adding his name to the list when he left his approach short. But he skilfully navigated the greenside bunker with a sensible first putt to set up the latest in a series of clutch hole-outs that went the same way as those before it – straight into the heart of the cup.
The last person to tackle the back nine of the Old Course at an Open in 30 was McIlroy in 2010 and there was a hint of irony in Smith all but ending the 2014 Champion’s chances by doing just that.
He did so with more sublime use of the putter from around the green on 18. From just off the front edge he left himself a birdie putt of less than three feet, which he dispatched with a minimum of fuss to put one hand on the Claret Jug. That then became two when McIlroy missed his chip for eagle on the same hole 10 minutes later.
YOUNG TAKES IT TO THE WIRE
For all the talk of a final-day shootout between Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, it ended up being the two Camerons who went toe-to-toe.
Young showed signs of nerves in bogeying the 1st but hit back with three successive birdies at 3, 4 and 5 before following up with another at 7 when a friendly break from a booming tee shot carried him to the green.
Nature was less on his side two holes later, his ball swallowed by a gorse bush following an errant tee shot that led to a drop and another bogey – but again the 25-year-old responded.
With Smith in relentless form alongside him, Young did his best to keep up with birdies at 10, 13 and 14 to stay within two of the leader and he made sure he took it to the very last shot with a stunning eagle on the last that briefly levelled the scores.
Smith held his nerve but Young, who set the pace with a 64 on Thursday, has now challenged for two majors this year and will surely be back for more.
RORY ROLLS UP SHORT
The 150th Open goes down as the latest case of so near, yet so far for Rory McIlroy.
While everything dropped for Smith, McIlroy’s radar was ever so slightly awry as he became the first player with an overnight lead not to walk away with a major trophy when hitting every green in regulation.
Birdies, which were so nearly eagles, at the 5th and 10th raised hopes and were greeted with roars of approval from a crowd eager to see the Northern Irishman end his eight-year major drought.
But Smith’s incredible run left McIlroy playing catch-up and an agonising missed birdie putt from 20 feet at 17 left him with too much to do on the last.
This has been McIlroy’s most consistent year in majors – never before has he finished in the top 10 of all four – but that will be scant consolation.
Hovland, meanwhile, failed to fire having started with a share of the lead.
The Norwegian dropped a shot at the 4th and did not reclaim it until the 12th, by which time Smith had left him in the rear-view mirror.
Two more bogeys saw Hovland sign for a 74, the only player in the top 10 to finish with an over-par round.
FLEETWOOD HEADS HOME CHALLENGE
Few players were as consistently impressive as Tommy Fleetwood over the final two rounds and he followed a 66 with a 67 to claim a share of fourth with Hovland at 14-under-par.
Five birdies featured on a bogey-free card and saw Fleetwood finish three shots clear of the next best Englishman, Tyrrell Hatton, who shot a final-day 68.
Matt Fitzpatrick bogeyed 15, 16 and 17 to finish his week nine-under-par while Robert MacIntyre gave the Scottish crowd plenty to cheer, with eagles at 5 and 12 helping him to seven-under-par.
SCHEFFLER CHALLENGE FADES AWAY
Scottie Scheffler had been earmarked as among the most likely of those lurking down the leaderboard to mount a challenge but was never in the hunt.
The world number 1 carded three bogeys down the front nine and eventually carded a 74 as several of his compatriots left Scheffler trailing in their wake.
Brian Harman’s 66 led him to 13-under-par, alongside Dustin Johnson, with Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau rounding off the top 10 a shot further back.
CELLI WINS SILVER MEDAL
Filippo Celli continued a memorable year by finishing as The 150th Open’s leading amateur.