AUGUSTA, Ga. – Cameron Smith became the first golfer in the 84-year history of the Masters to shoot four rounds in the 60s at Augusta National Golf Club, and he still got lapped by five strokes by Dustin Johnson.
That about sums up how Johnson played, but also reflects how the 27-year-old Australian native put up a valiant fight, cutting Johnson’s lead to as little as two strokes before Johnson pulled away to finish at tournament-record 20-under-par 268. Smith closed in 3-under 69 to go along with earlier rounds of 67-68-69 to finish tied for second with South Korea’s Sungjae Im and earn his place in the tournament record books.
“That’s pretty cool. I didn’t realize until you told me,” Smith told CBS’s Amanda Balionis.
Once Smith had a moment to let his scoring achievement sink in, he concluded that it would have been even cooler to do so and win.
“I’d take 15 under around here the rest of my career and I might win a couple,” said Smith, whose 72-hole aggregate score actually would have won all but five of 84 Masters (and forced a playoff with Patrick Reed in 2018).
On the eve of the final round, Smith, who was attempting to become the second Australian to win the Masters after Adam Scott in 2013, said he was going to come with guns blazing and he did just that, making birdie on two of the first three holes. He gave a stroke back with a bogey at No. 5 before making the first of two remarkable birdies from the Georgia pines.
At No. 7, he pushed his tee shot to the right and considered chipping.
Instead he hoisted a wedge over the trees and it stopped 10 feet from the hole. Afterwards, several of the few, the proud on site took turns admiring his fresh divot the way they marvel at the spot on No. 10 where Bubba Watson hit his gravity-defying wedge from the trees to win a playoff in 2012. Had Smith won, it may have been worthy of a plaque someday.
“I knew I had to keep the pressure on Dustin, and wasn’t here to finish second,” Smith said. “There was a small gap up there. The club was pretty good. Just had to hit it really hard and good, and it turned out well.”
At the ninth, Smith pulled off another Houdini act from the trees with a 9 iron from 155 yards that landed on the left fringe and caught the slope and trickled to within 4 feet of the hole for another birdie.
Smith, who qualified for the Masters by winning the Sony Open in Hawaii, figured that if he could get to 16 under, Johnson’s score at the beginning of the day, he would have a decent chance to win a Green Jacket.
“I knew I had to put the pressure on early,” he said, “DJ was just too good in the end.”
Smith missed the green at the par-4 11th hole and failed to get up and down for par. It was one of the few times he failed to pull a rabbit out of his hat when he misfired.
“My scrambling, my chipping and putting was unreal this week,” he said, “probably the best it’s ever been.”
Smith’s effort to chase down Johnson stalled from there, though he tacked on a final birdie at No. 15 to help his score dip into the 60s for a fourth straight day.
“I felt as though I needed to shoot 3‑ or 4‑under on that back nine with the wind the way it was,” said Smith, who settled for an even-par 36. “It got pretty tricky out there. I would say after 16, after not birdieing 16, I thought if I birdied the last four, I thought I would still have a chance. At least make him think about it. And wasn’t to be.”
Not to be this time, but Smith continues to knock on the door at the Masters, where he finished T-5 in 2018 and in majors, where he also recorded a top-5 at the 2015 U.S. Open.
“He’s been a good player for a long time, but I think he’s really comfortable at it now,” fellow Aussie Marc Leishman said. “He’s going to be a great player for a long time. I would expect to see him on leaderboards here for a long time to come.”
Especially if he keeps shooting rounds in the 60s.
“I love the place,” Smith said. “I want to win here really badly, and I feel like it brings the best out of my game.”