No one ever finished more under par in PGA Tour history than Cameron Smith, and he never could appreciate it until his final birdie putt on Sunday in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Not with Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world, on his heels every step of the way. Not with Matt Jones making a pair of eagles and a 50-foot birdie putt in a span of five holes to stay in the game at Kapalua.
In the best scoring conditions Kapalua has seen in the 24 times it has hosted the winners-only start to the new year, Smith was relentless all the day down to the three-foot birdie putt the Aussie made on the 18th hole for an 8-under 65 and a one-shot victory over Rahm.
“Mate, it was intense,” Smith said. “It was pretty crazy. I felt like I needed to make a birdie to kind of keep up with him or stay in front.”
Smith finished at 34-under 258, and some context is in order.
Only three players in tour history had finished at 30 under or lower. Ernie Els set the record of 31 under at Kapalua in 2003 and won by eight shots. Jordan Spieth shot 30 under in 2016, also winning by eight. Dustin Johnson shot 30 under at Liberty National in 2020 and won by 11.
Smith won by one.
“Unreal round,” Smith said. “Something I’ll never forget.”
It was a testament to four days of warm sunshine and not even enough win to move a palm frond, with soft fairways from heavy rain before the elite field arrived on the western edge of Maui, and greens that were never more pure.
Rahm never shot worse than 66, and he was one of three players to tie the Plantation course record with a 61 in the third round. He made 32 birdies for the week, tying the PGA Tour record for a 72-hole event shared by Paul Gow at the B.C. Open and Mark Calcavecchia in the Phoenix Open, both those events in 2001.
“I have every reason to be smiling,” Rahm said about his score. “It’s a bittersweet moment.”
Rahm, playing for the first time since October 15, did all he could and Smith never gave him an opening. They started the final round tied for the lead. Smith pulled ahead with a four-foot birdie putt on No. 4 and a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth.
Rahm closed within one shot with a 15-foot birdie on the 11th.
They matched birdies and pars on the same holes the rest of the way. Rahm closed with a 66 to finish at 33-under 259.
“This golf course only has one defense and that’s the wind,” Rahm said. “If people are shooting between 20 and 26 under with 20-mile-an-hour winds, what do you expect us to do when there’s absolutely no wind?”
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Probably relief is the main emotion, obviously it was a bit of a struggle today, said Fox