JERSEY CITY, N.J. – It will be the 12-footer that didn’t fall at the 18th hole Saturday that people will focus on when talking about Cameron Smith’s bid to post the 13th sub-60 score in PGA TOUR history.
But it was the one he missed from slightly shorter range at the par-4 15th that Smith said stung a little.
“It was a really, good look. It was kind of straight up the hill (and) I hit a good putt,” said Smith, whose third-round 11-under 60 not only established a course record at Liberty National GC but thrust him into a share of the 54-hole lead with Jon Rahm in THE NORTHERN TRUST, the opening tournament of the FedExCup Playoffs.
“It just kind of wobbled a little bit up the hill. Probably didn’t give it enough speed.”
Mind you, the tap-in par didn’t exactly knock Smith out of the fast lane, because he was 9-under on his round, 14-under in the third round at Liberty National Golf Club, and he was passing competitors like Secretariat out of the gates at Belmont.
Yet, it is diving below 60 that remains a magical border in professional golf and so Smith was cognizant of the reality at hand. Finish birdie, birdie, birdie, and he’d shoot 59 to join elite company. (Jim Furyk owns the record with a 58; Furyk and 10 others have shot 59s.)
If he was at all deflated leaving the 15th green, and Smith concedes he didn’t love his chances “to be honest,” things quickly turned to the positive. The 28-year-old Aussie drove the 290-yard, par-4 16th, two-putted for birdie, then stuffed an approach to 4 feet at the 17th for his 11th birdie of the round.
The quest was very real, especially after he drove it 342 into the left side of the 18th fairway, leaving him a 139-yard approach.
“My driver definitely put me in the spot today for all those birdies,” said Smith, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and gave himself plenty of chances. The last of the opportunities came at 18, a putt that Smith felt he had a good feel for.
“I thought it was going to kind of stay straight and then drop a little bit right there at the end,” said Smith. “I just didn’t do it.”
He said his read was off – not by much, but certainly by enough to leave him shaking his head. “Looking back, I don’t know how I read it to go that way, but it is what it is.”
Just two weeks ago, Smith had established his low score on the PGA TOUR, a 62 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic. So, to come right back and go lower, and in a Playoffs event, no less, had Smith feeling pretty good. He had arrived for Saturday’s round in a tie for 25th place, seven off Jon Rahm’s lead.
But on a day when 62s (Corey Conners, Shane Lowry, Erik van Rooyen) and 63s (Doug Ghim) were thrown down in ho-hum fashion, Smith’s scintillating 60 had propelled him to 16-under 197 and into a share of the lead with Rahm.
The Spaniard, however, was still out there with a lot of holes to play on a very soft course, so when asked how many he expected to be trailing by, Smith said, “I’d say at least a couple.”
There wasn’t any hesitation, either and Smith explained why. “Jon is playing some pretty good golf, so we’ve got to try and catch up.”
No doubt, Rahm has been on a roll, but with a double-bogey at the par-5 13th and bogey at the short, par-4 16th, Rahm limped home in 35, shot 67, and had to settle for sharing the lead with Smith.
So, the mission for Smith changes from “catch up” to “go and win.”
It’s a mission that won’t arrive as originally scheduled because an approaching Hurricane named Henri had altered plans. Sunday’s fourth round has been postponed till Monday.
Henri, however, has not changed Smith’s game plan. It will be an aggressive mode from the opening tee shot.
But in some ways, Smith was suggesting the break in play could help him. “I think it’s always hard to back up a really, good round, so maybe the day off will help me out,” he said.
The Aussie flashed a sly grin. His round was over, but he was still staying on the attack.