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Aussie Cameron Smith lights up to claim 2022 The Players Championship
After wild weather on Friday which the day got rained out, it took 5 days to finish the tournament and the field was out early on Sunday to finish round 3.
Smith started his final round 2 shots behind the eventual runner-up Amirban Lahiri but got to work early.
He strung 4 birdies in a row and rocketed up the leader board.
“The course is still soft,” Smith said. “There’s going to be a ton of birdies.”
Smith who only lives 5 miles from the course knows TPC Sawgrass very well and his knowledge showed earlier on.
“I’ve birdied every hole around here a million times it seems like, and it’s important not to get too ahead of myself,” he said on Sunday.
For good measure, he added another birdie on the 6th and he was 5 under for the day through 6 holes.
Smith then ran into some trouble on the 7th, 8th and 9th making bogeys on all 3 and slipping down the leader board.
In a remarkable turnaround, Smith was able to shake off the bogeys and go on a birdie run again stringing another 4 in a row from the 10th to the 13th hole.
Inching closer to the victory he took on the island green 17th and knocked his tee shot to 4 foot before rolling it in and taking a 3 shot lead into the 18th but it wasn’t over.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t push it a little bit,” Smith said. “I was trying to hit it over the bunker there and hold it up against the wind. The wind didn’t really do much for maybe three quarters of the shot, and it held it up right there at the end. Yeah, that was just awesome.”
Lahiri who was playing behind Smith had just made a birdie of his own on the 17th and the lead was down to two.
With water hugging down the left side of the 18th Smith, who normally likes to fade the ball, bailed out right with this tee shot. Trying to punch out his second he hits it too firm and it runs into the water. Standing on the fairway 60 yards out and playing his 4th he knows he cannot make any more than 5 or he could lose the tournament.
“He’s a genius inside 60 yards,” Pinfold said. After his penalty drop, Smith’s wedge bounced right of hole before spinning to tap-in range. That up-and-down meant Anirban Lahiri, who’d just birdied 17, needed another birdie at 18 to force a playoff. He missed right of the green and it was all over.
“They breed them tough in Queensland,” said Smith’s friend, Jack Wilkosz. Smith needed that fortitude to make it to the PGA TOUR and win three times with a long game that didn’t match many of his peers. Before this year, he’d never finished better than 119th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, losing strokes in that area of his game each season. He’s a grinder whose resolve was steeled by all those years recovering from wayward shots.
“If you haven’t always been a good ballstriker, … you learn when you hit an awkward or squirrely shot to not get too wound up about it,” said former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, an interested observer Monday as the captain of this year’s International Team for the Presidents Cup. “I always used to think I was a good ballstriker, so it would really get under my skin when I hit a bad shot and maybe even affect future shots. Cam takes everything in stride.”