July 18, 2022
Cameron won it, but Rory really lost it!
An Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews is special because of the history and the unique type of golf that is needed to prevail on golf's oldest golf course. Add nearly 300,000 fans in an almost surreal setting along with the pressure and emotions in each contestant and you have all you need for an unforgettable dramatic outcome.
For those of you that have not played St. Andrews, the golf course is really not hard. Stay away from the 112 bunkers and play normal, non-Open Championship pin positions and you would think, "What are they making such a big deal about?" But the more you play it, the more the subtleties and nuances will become known to you. No major championship golf course has four drivable par four's and only a few holes that require more than a 9 iron for their approach shots. Therefore every scoring record should be broken, if conditions were benign. This week the course probably played its' easiest, but it held its' own and was a true test for the world's best golfers.
This Championship boiled down to long straight driving, deft wedge play, and excellent putting. In the end, it was the putting that won the trophy. The Old Course defense is the fast and rock-hard enormous greens with undulating irregular mounds and valleys that go up and down that require expert imagination and touch. Based on the difficulty of the pin position a good approach shot was 30 or 40 feet from the hole. It was not unusual for players to have putts over 100 feet in length. Patience and knowing when to be aggressive were the keys to scoring this past week.
Going into the last round the tournament should have been won by either Rory McIlroy or Viktor Hovland, who stood four shots ahead of Cameron Smith and Cameron Young. If either would've played a solid round the Claret Jug would have been theirs. The crowd favorite was easily Rory McIlroy. For three days, he looked like a player what had his emotions and game in just the right position. Play a solid round and beat his less experienced playing partner and the victory would be his. His proponents will point to him hitting 18 greens, making no bogies and two birdies as a solid round. Unfortunately he really didn't have a lot of birdie opportunities that he could've taken advantage of. On the front nine he had seven wedge chances that ranged from full, ¾, ½, and pitch shots that he could not get close enough to have a reasonable chance to make a putt for a birdie. When Cameron Smith started his birdie streak, it was time for a great player to respond. Regrettably his less than average, by Tour standards, wedge play surfaced and he was not able to get any of this wedge and pitch shots close. His final chance came after an excellent iron shot to the demanding pin position on the 17th hole. You expect Tiger or Jack to make that putt, but not from Rory. And he didn't. Maybe he will in the future, but right now he doesn't have that type of magic.
The winner of the Champion Golfer of the Year belongs to Cameron Smith. He charged from behind and the leaders couldn't match his surge. Putting was key and there has been no one better this year putting than Cameron Smith. The clutch putting that he exhibited at the Players Championship and during the last round in St. Andrews was exceptional. Don't forget the brilliant tee shot and deft putt from 60 feet through the Valley of Sin, up a five foot rise with a ten foot break to two feet that sealed the championship. The victory was well earned and there may be more majors in the future.
For Rory this is a bitter defeat. It's now eight plus years since his last major championship. He is too good to have gone that long without adding another title to his resume. It will only get harder, if he dwells on this failure. For Cameron Young and Viktor Hovland, they were close and the realization that they can compete at this next level is inspiring. Young seems to have the full package and probably only is missing a degree of experience. Hovland has a couple of flaws that needs a bit of work, but he has the moxie and attitude to be a major winner. That can't be taught.
The Old Course was prime to be overrun by this younger generation of golfers. I think it showed it still has what it takes. All the golfers near the top of the leaderboard had runs of brilliance, but in the end the Grand Old Lady put them in their place. Only a few survived the test and one, Cameron Smith, proudly can be called Champion Golfer of the Year.