Cameron Smith claimed the biggest win of his career – and the biggest payday in golf – as a Players Championship that featured storm delays and near freezing temperatures concluded in warm sunshine at TPC Sawgrass on Monday.
The 28-year-old Australian secured the PGA Tour’s flagship event – and the $3.6m first prize – with a closing 66 for a 13-under total, finishing one shot ahead of India’s Anirban Lahiri, with Paul Casey carding a 69 to end third on 11 under.
Smith holed four consecutive birdie putts from the first hole of the final round to race clear of the field, and a fifth came at his sixth hole to get to 12 under. But the momentum started to shift on the par-four seventh as Casey rolled in his first birdie putt to get within two as Smith bogeyed.
And the lead was eradicated on the par-five ninth, with Smith carding a third successive bogey, while Casey again birdied as both started the back nine on nine under.
Elsewhere, pressure was coming from American Keegan Bradley, who had four birdies from the ninth to get to 10 under, while Scotland’s Russell Knox birdied three of his first four holes to get to nine under before fading with bogeys at the fifth and seventh.
Round-three leader Lahiri reached 10 under after seven holes, but a double bogey on the par-three eighth looked ruinous for the Indian. However, he hit back with an eagle on the 11th to get right back in the hunt on 11 under.
Smith was on another birdie run though, holing four in succession from the 10th to get to 13 under and put daylight between himself and the field.
Casey hung in with birdies on the 11th and 12th to get to 11 under, but his luck ran out on the par-five 16th. After a big drive, his ball ended up in a divot, preventing him from going for the green in two, with the threat of water to the right of the green.
Casey had to settle for par, as did Smith and the Australian further extended his lead with a birdie on the par-three 17th after hitting his tee shot to four feet.
Lahiri, in the group behind, also birdied the 17th to move within two and he watched from the 18th fairway as Smith, who had inexplicably hit his second from the trees into the water, holed a short putt for a bogey.
That left Lahiri needing a birdie to force a play-off, but his approach came up short of the green and when his birdie chip pulled up a foot short of the hole, Smith could finally celebrate.
“I feel as though one of these big ones was the next step for me,” said Smith, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January. “I have knocked on the door a few times and I felt it was my time. I’m playing the best I’ve ever played, I hit lots of quality golf shots and did not back down.”
CAMERON SMITH’S WINNING GEAR
Driver: Titleist TSi3 (10°)
Fairway Woods: Titleist TSi2 3 (15°), Titleist TS2 7 (18°)
Irons: Mizuno Pro Fli-Hi (3), Titleist T100 Black (5-9)
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM9 (46°, 52°, 56°, 60°)
Putter: Scotty Cameron 009M Prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
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