The eighth at RACV Royal Pines Resort was designed precisely as a risk/reward hole. When Cameron Smith hit his tee shot into the water left of the green at the 307-metre par 4, his hope of winning the Australian PGA Championship appeared to sink with it.
But after his third shot ricocheted off the flagstick to the front of the green, Smith made one of the great par saves of his career to keep pace with leader Jordan Zunic and eventually claim the Australian PGA Championship in a playoff to earn a cheque for $237,500.
In a year to remember for Australian sporting Cameron Smiths, the 24-year-old Queenslander punctuated his maiden win on the US PGA Tour – May’s Zurich Classic in partnership with Jonas Blixt – to claim the first individual title of his career and continue a rapid ascent up the world golf ranking.
“I tried to stay aggressive all day,” Smith said as he cradled the Joe Kirkwood Cup. “With the lead that Jordan had, I thought that I had to stay aggressive no matter how close I got to him.”
It was a slow start for Zunic in the final round, which was brought forward by three hours in order to avoid a severe thunderstorm that was due to hit south-east Queensland mid-afternoon. After seeing three shots disappear on the final two holes of his third round, Zunic gave up another on the first hole on Sunday, allowing Smith to draw to within two shots with 17 holes to play.
Adam Bland briefly popped up to turn the duel into a three-way fight with birdie at 16. But he could only par the closing two holes and finished a shot outside the playoff. It would cost him the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, that honour falling to West Australian Brett Rumford.
Sergio Garcia’s first tournament appearance in Australia in seven years finished in somewhat disappointing fashion with a final round of two-over 74 to be T-24.
With regard to the miraculous par save at the eighth, Smith said: “I didn’t quite hit the [tee] shot I wanted, just pulled it a little bit. I had a perfect number for my drop and hit the bottom of the pin and I was like, Am I not meant to win this thing? I don’t know how long [the putt] was. But it was a fair way and that kept the momentum going. That was probably key actually.”
Smith only claimed the outright lead for the first time in the tournament when he made a birdie at the 71st hole, emulating Sergio Garcia’s exuberance at the 1999 US PGA Championship at Medinah by running after his second shot from the right side of the fairway to see it stop 10 feet right of the hole.
After placing his tee shot safely in the middle of the 18th fairway, Smith backed off his second due to an unruly spectator who had been repeatedly sneezing in his backswing and according to Smith was “telling me not to choke”.
“I don’t know what he was trying to achieve. I guess he was from New South Wales,” added Smith, who was wearing his customary maroon shirt for the final round.
When Zunic’s birdie putt missed to the right, Smith had the chance to win in regulation. But his par putt from five feet missed to the left without touching the hole. The PGA went into extra-time for the third time in four years after Smith and Zunic finished at 18-under.
The pair traded pars on the first playoff hole after Smith produced an exquisite chip from the left side of the raised 18th green. Both players failed to hit the green in regulation the second time around. And when Zunic’s par putt lipped out on the left edge, Smith stepped up to claim the Joe Kirkwood Cup with a putt from four feet.
— PGA of Australia (@PGAofAustralia) December 3, 2017
Admitting he got carried away earlier in the year following his win at New Orleans, Smith said that winning for a second time won’t change his mindset in future. He also declared his continued support for Australian events.
“This will be on my schedule as long as I have my card and full status in the US. I’ll definitely come down and play the two or three that are here,” he said. “To be on the same trophy as Seve (Ballesteros), (Greg) Norman, Wayne Grady, Pete Senior, Brett Ogle, the list goes on . . . I just hope I can do half as much with my golf career as they did with theirs.
“Winning won’t change me much this time; it did last time. I got ahead of myself a little bit, thinking it was the easiest game on the planet and that I’d go out there and win every week. I had a battle through the middle of the year and didn’t play that great so the key is to keep doing what I’m doing and not expect too much … and not get ahead of myself.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) December 3, 2017