Aussie Cameron Smith admitted victory tasted that bit sweeter having played the weekend in the company of the world number one Jon Rahm and come out on top at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
The 28-year old hit heights previously unseen at the event, eclipsing Ernie Els’ tournament-record 31-under total by three strokes with rounds of 65, 64, 64 and 65 [-34], including an all-important birdie at the last that ensured he pipped Rahm to the title by one.
“Unreal round. Something I’ll never forget,” Smith said, twice a winner now in Hawaii having previously won the Sony Open where he competes again from Thursday alongside Seamus Power.
“Being a leader is not easy, with restless sleeps. I feel like I spent a lot of time looking at the ceiling.
“But it was nice to see where my game is at against some of the best players in the world. I’ve been working hard, and it’s paid off early in the season.”
As Smith mentions, holding a lead is never easy, particularly when you have the game’s standard bearer breathing down your neck. Rahm looked the likely winner after a moving day 61 brought the Spaniard level with Smith, setting up a final day showdown in Kapalua. Yet far from overawed by the match-up, Smith embraced the challenge, coming up trumps by a stroke and reaping the confidence of knowing he can beat the man currently setting the benchmark.
“Yeah, I mean, he’s the best golfer in the world and there’s many reasons why he is. He flushes it and it seems like he drains every putt he looks at,” Smith said.
“It was nice to overcome that and kind of give some punches back, I guess, and give him something to think about.”
Smith finds himself up to a career high 10th in the Official World Rankings off the back of the win. Sporting his trusty mullet hairdo, and with it the true-blue Aussie bravado that he gleaned from growing up on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, although Smith finds himself frequenting some of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs while playing a game often labelled ‘elite’, he insists staying grounded has come easy to him – it’s the way he’s been raised and all the wins in the world won’t change that.
“I feel like there’s no real reason to change my personality. I think my dad would whip me, to be honest, if I did,” he said laughing.
“It’s just how I’ve been brought up. I’ve been brought up to be the modest guy that respects everyone. And like even today out there, Jon was great as well. Every time we made a putt or a birdie it was, ‘Good shot, mate’, or there was never any I guess hatred towards each other just because we were competing. It was, we wanted to win because we wanted to compete against the best.”
And asked if the powers that be should feel concerned about the standard of golf on show over the past few days, Smith says no, not least because the Plantation Course was a sitting duck for the game’s best to attack with receptive greens rolling true and no wind to defend it.
“That’s just how golf is,” Smith says. “I feel like I have to improve every year to just keep up. The Tour standard is so good now. Obviously the course this week was a little bit soft. The greens were nice, probably the nicest they have ever been for me here.
“But different conditions, wind, firm and fast fairways and greens always seems to sort out the score. So I just think that’s how golf is and if the course is soft and receptive that’s just a part of it.”
- Full scoring HERE