‘To do it here was awesome’: Smith’s miracle round gives him two-stroke lead, but tears for Tiger, at British Open
Unflappable as ever and looking unstoppable, Cameron Smith is embracing the tension and pressure after seizing command of the milestone 150th British Open with a second round for the ages.
Smith etched his name in golf’s history books after signing for a nerveless, bogey-free, eight-under-par 64 to snare a two-stroke lead on Friday.
The world No.6’s 13-under halfway total broke the St Andrews 36-hole Open scoring record – previously shared by Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Louis Oosthuizen.
Smith, though, will have a swag of the sport’s biggest names – including Open favourite Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, world No.1 Scottie Scheffler and inspired countryman Adam Scott – hunting him down in a mouth-watering weekend shootout at golf’s spiritual home.
But after further fuelling hopes of a first Australian winner of the famous Claret Jug since Norman at Royal St George’s in 1993, Smith said he’d never felt more ready to finally break through for his elusive first major.
“It’s just exciting to be leading the Open after a couple of days,” he said.
“That experience tomorrow is going to be really cool. There’s a lot of Aussies in the crowd, it seems like. Had a lot of support the first couple of days and really can’t wait for the next couple.
“It’s obviously a really good spot to be in. I feel like I’ve been in this spot a lot over the past couple of years, and things just haven’t quite gone my way yet.
“I’ve just got to be really patient over the weekend. I think the golf course is going to get a lot harder and a lot faster, so just be patient and make good putts.”
As he did all day Friday.
The scrambling wizard mixed some majestic iron play with a series of masterful long-range two-putts to amass six birdies and a rip-roaring eagle three on the par-five 14th where he rolled in a curving 64-footer to place the field on notice.
At that point, Smith threatened to equal the lowest round in men’s major history – Branden Grace’s 62 at the Royal Birkdale Open in 2017.
But not even missing out on only the third-ever 63 at St Andrews could wipe the smile off Smith’s face as the 28-year-old ended his magical round with a two-shot buffer over American first-round leader Cameron Young (69).
“That was pretty cool out there,” Smith said. “A lot of things went right but to do it here was awesome.”
Pre-Open favourite McIlroy (68) is three back in a tie for third with Viktor Hovland, who holed out for a spectacular eagle two on the 15th to jump the leaderboard with his round of 66.
Two-time major winner Johnson (67) is outright fifth at nine under, with Scheffler (68) and Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (66) a further stroke behind in a tie for sixth.
Scott was another stroke behind at seven under after himself shooting the best Open round of his career, a birdie-filled, bogey-free 65 in the breathless morning conditions.
On a star-stacked leaderboard, American trio Patrick Cantlay (67), Talor Gooch (69) and Sahith Theegala (68) share eighth place with Scott.
Rounding out a memorable day for Australian golf, Min Woo Lee (69) and Lucas Herbert (68) also remained in contention at six under in a tie for 12th with England’s US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick (66).
But it’s Smith everyone must catch as the Queenslander bids to become the first Australian since Norman claimed the Claret Jug, golf’s oldest and most prestigious championship, for a second time 29 years ago.
Ominously for the chasing pack, Smith’s 67-64 start bettered Oosthuizen’s 65-67 opening to the 2010 Open at the home of golf when the South African converted his 12-under halfway total into a memorable seven-shot triumph on Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday.
Faldo won by five after also starting with 65-67 at St Andrews in 1990, with Norman consigned to a share of sixth following his opening pair of 66s that year.
Meanwhile, an emotional Tiger Woods has fought back tears as he made an early exit from what is almost certain to be his last Open Championship at St Andrews.A winner on the Old Course in both 2000 and 2005, Woods could only add a second round of 75 to his opening 78 to finish nine over par and miss the cut in the Open for just the fourth time in his career.
As promised, Woods did not pause for commemorative photographs as he crossed the Swilcan Bridge as the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson had done when making their last appearance at the Home of Golf.
But it was clearly an emotional moment for the three-time Open champion, who removed his cap to acknowledge the applause and waved to the packed grandstands as spectators used any vantage point they could to see Woods play the 18th.
“It was very emotional for me,” Woods said.
“I have been coming here since 1995 and I don’t know when the next one comes around – in what, 2030 – if I will be physically able to play by then.
“I felt like it might be my last British Open at St Andrews and the ovation and warmth was an unbelievable feeling.
“They understand what the golf is all about and what it takes to be an Open champion.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have won here twice and it felt very emotional just because I don’t know what my health is going to be like.”
The earliest the Open could return to St Andrews is 2026, although 2027 would be more likely given the previous tradition of staging it on the Old Course every five years.
“I certainly feel like I’ll be able to play more British Opens, but I don’t know if I’ll be around when it comes back around here,” said the 46-year-old.
Woods made his return at the Masters in April, reached the weekend there and finished 47th.
At the PGA Championship the next month, he made the cut but withdrew after the third round due to ongoing pain in his leg and foot.
Woods skipped the US Open so he could physically recover in time to play the 150th Open at the course he said is his favourite in the world.
But he was able to make his only birdie of the day at the par-four third hole by draining a 28-foot putt.
Woods had a chance to go out with a fist pump with a short birdie try at the 18th green, but he watched as yet another putt lipped out and shook his head as he tapped in the par before waving to the crowd.
Rory McIlroy was heading up the first hole, parallel to the 18th, as Woods walked up the last fairway, and the Northern Ireland star was seen giving his friend a tip of his cap.
“The warmth and the ovation at 18, it got to me,” Woods said.
“Just the walk. I felt the guys there stop there off the tee at 18. It was just incredible, the amount of understanding and respect that are involved in this event.”