Cameron Smith breaks Open record as Tiger Woods makes emotional early exit
Australia’s Cameron Smith stepped confidently into the spotlight vacated by Tiger Woods as Rory McIlroy remained firmly in contention in the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews.
After an emotional Woods made an early exit from almost certainly his last competitive appearance on the Old Course, Smith carded a flawless 64 for a 13-under-par halfway total of 131.
That surpassed the previous best for an Open at St Andrews – set by Nick Faldo and Greg Norman in 1990 and matched by Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 – by a shot and gave Smith a two-shot lead over Cameron Young, with McIlroy and Ryder Cup team-mate Viktor Hovland a shot further back.
Smith birdied his first three holes, picked up three more around the turn and then holed from 60 feet for an eagle on the 14th to raise the prospect of equalling the lowest round in men’s major history, Branden Grace’s 62 at Royal Birkdale in 2017.
And although he was unable to make any further gains, the 28-year-old from Brisbane still occupied top spot on a leaderboard packed with world-class players.
“That was pretty cool out there,” a typically understated Smith said. ” A lot of things went right, but to do it here was awesome.”
Young added a 69 to his opening 64, while McIlroy found himself six off the pace after covering the front nine in 35 but started for home with three birdies in a row and picked up another on the 17th to return a 68 marred only by a three-putt par on the last.
“I played well coming in, stuck to my game plan well,” McIlroy said. “I’m picking holes and walking off thinking I could have been a couple better, but I am in a great position going into the weekend.”
Smith started the year with a record 34-under-par winning total in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii following a thrilling duel with then world number one Jon Rahm.
And two months later he claimed the biggest victory of his career to date in the Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Jack Nicklaus is the only player to win the Players and Open in the same season, in 1978, a year when the Open was held at St Andrews.
A winner on the Old Course in both 2000 and 2005, Woods could only add a 75 to his opening 78 to finish nine over par and miss the cut in the Open for just the fourth time in his career.
As promised, Woods did not pause for commemorative photographs as he crossed the Swilcan Bridge, but it was clearly an emotional moment for the 46-year-old, who removed his cap to acknowledge the applause and waved to the packed grandstands.
“It was very emotional for me,” Woods said. “I have been coming here since 1995 and I don’t know when the next one comes around, in what, 2030, if I will be physically able to play by then.
“I felt like it might be my last British Open at St Andrews and the ovation and warmth was an unbelievable feeling.”
The earliest the Open could return to St Andrews is 2026, although 2027 would be more likely given the previous tradition of staging it on the Old Course every five years.
Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson was four shots off the lead after adding a 67 to his opening 68, with world number one Scottie Scheffler and England’s Tyrrell Hatton a shot further back.
Johnson was the first of the LIV Golf players to face an interview in the media centre this week, but batted away any questions on the divisive Saudi-backed breakaway.
“I don’t read anything, so I wouldn’t know what you were saying or if there was anything negative being said,” Johnson said. “I don’t pay attention to it.”
Johnson was similarly unconcerned by memories of the 2015 Open at St Andrews, when he held the halfway lead but shot two rounds of 75 at the weekend to finish tied for 49th.
“To be honest, I don’t even remember the third round from seven years ago,” Johnson added. “I’ve played a lot of golf since then, and that was a long time ago.”
Hatton won back-to-back Dunhill Links Championships in 2016 and 2017 and was runner-up the year after in an event which features two rounds at St Andrews.
“There’s still a lot of golf left to play,” he said. “Although I’ve won around here in the past, the golf course is very different to how we play in October and the pin positions are a lot tighter.
“If I play good golf, then sure, we’ll have a chance, but it’s definitely not a time to get ahead of ourselves.”
Scheffler could emulate Woods as the last player to win the Masters and the Open in the same year but said: “Thinking about prior wins isn’t going to help me play good this week.”
US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick is seven shots off the lead despite a superb 66, while Collin Morikawa’s reign as Open champion came to a disappointing end with a missed cut on one over.
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