Cameron Smith stood on the 18th green, put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes, trying to process the conflicting range of emotions following Sunday’s dramatic finish at LIV Golf London.
He was elated to win the individual title, his second victory in 13 regular season starts since joining LIV. It was a perfect way to build momentum entering his title defense in two weeks at the Open Championship.
Yet he was disappointed to have missed a 6-foot putt for par that would’ve forced the first team playoff in LIV Golf history. Instead, his bogey on the final hole at Centurion Club dropped his all-Australian Ripper GC into second, one shot behind 4Aces GC, this season’s points leaders that won their second team title of the season while having to sweat out Smith’s putt.
“Obviously thrilled about the individual win, but it would’ve been nice to get up there with the boys,” said Smith, who shot a final-round 68 for a winning score of 15 under. “It’s a bit of mixed emotions at the moment.”
Smith and teammate Marc Leishman, playing in the final group Sunday, were the last hope for the Rippers to catch the 4Aces, who rallied from four strokes down to start the day to take the lead at 34 under. The Rippers were at 33 under going into the final hole, the par-5 18th. Individually, Smith had a two-shot lead over the 4Aces’ Patrick Reed.
Smith was forced to lay up after his drive found the rough, but Leishman’s second shot was just off the back of the green. As Smith played his third shot, a gust of wind pushed his ball into the bunker. He blasted out to 6 feet. Leishman then completed his two-putt for birdie, leveling the team leaderboard while finishing in a tie for second individually with Reed.
Then the unexpected happened. After a brilliant week of putting – especially on Sunday as he holed more than 105 feet of putts in his first 10 holes – Smith’s par attempt slid past the hole. His individual win was sealed but the opportunity for the Rippers’ first team victory was lost.
“I really wanted Cam to make the one on the last there,” Leishman said. “He played great and putted great all week. To win the tournament and still walk off the green disappointed, I guess that’s what this is all about, the team format.”
The 4Aces certainly seem to have the formula for success in the team competition. Sunday’s win was their sixth regular-season team title going back to last season, and their second this season, having won in Adelaide. It also increases their lead in the team point standings to 39 points over Torque GC, the three-time tournament winners this year.
Reed provided the Aces with their lowest score of the day, a 6-under 65 that moved him to 14 under. The other two contributing scores belonged to Pat Perez, who shot a bogey-free 66, and captain Dustin Johnson with a 67 (with Peter Uihlein’s 68 not counting).
The 4Aces had started slowly on Friday, shooting just 3 under as a team, before shooting 31 under on the weekend. While they haven’t been as dominant as last season, they remain the team to beat through nine events. Sunday’s outcome was the latest evidence.
“We were seeing a lot of those teams getting too close to us at the top of that board,” Reed said. “I felt like as a team, we just weren’t really getting the numbers we wanted to. This week meant a lot for us to go out and make a statement.”
One of those statements involves the ability to finish off tournaments. Reed was a bogey-free 7 under on his first 11 holes. Perez was 4 under on his last 7 holes. Johnson supplied an eagle and a birdie in the back end of his round as the Aces kept cutting into the Rippers’ lead – and eventually overtaking them.
“That was the biggest thing,” Reed said. “We kept pressure on them.”
It came down to the last hole, with LIV Golf’s best putter in the spotlight. Six feet away from forcing LIV Golf’s first team playoff.
“Cam hasn’t missed one of those in his life, so I’m pretty shocked,” Perez said. “Nonetheless, it would’ve been cool. That would’ve been a separator again in golf, to have a team playoff. I think it would’ve been awesome.”
It didn’t work this time for Smith and his Rippers, but their second-place finish – the team’s best result – is something to build on.
“We showed that we’re a contender of the team stuff,” Smith said. “That’s where we want to be every week.”