AUGUSTA, Ga. ( Associated Press) – With his mullet fluttering in the Georgia air, Cameron Smith made sure Scottie Scheffler didn’t run away from everyone at the Masters.
Thanks to Smith, the leader has to work for that green jacket.
The 28-year-old Australian turned in the third round, which was not possible at the Augusta National on Saturday with unseasonably cold temperatures and strong winds.
Smith shot 4-under 68 – the only score in the 60s – to pull within three shots of Scheffler and join the final group on Sunday.
“It was really tough out there,” Smith said. “I think I did a good job of staying within myself, being patient with the course. Just hitting a lot of quality iron shots, and the puts went in too.”
This is not an unusual situation for Smith.
In the last five Masters appearances, he has had three top-10 finishes – including a tie for the runner-up spot in 2020 behind Dustin Johnson.
That year, with the tournament being played in the fall for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic, Smith became the first golfer in his 60s to post four straight Masters rounds.
It wasn’t enough to top Johnson, who romped to a record-setting, five-stroke victory with a 20-under score.
Smith had to settle for the satisfaction – or frustration – of knowing his score was matched by Sungjae Im, but would have won the Masters outright in seven years.
Smith is unlikely to reach an under-15 this year – which would require a 63 finish – but he may not need to go down that much to claim his first major championship.
He certainly has shown the game to capture one of the biggest prizes, especially winning this year’s Players Championship against perhaps the strongest field in golf.
“I can get it done, I think, when I’m up against the best people in the world,” Smith said. “It’s a good feeling. It’s earned. It’s not given to you.”
Time and again, he has displayed a calm demeanor that carries him through inevitable tough patches.
Smith double bogeyed the opening hole of the tournament on Thursday, and was on number 18 that day.
Smith fought for 74 in the second round, leaving Schaffler six shots behind, but the Australian halved that deficit with a brilliant performance on Saturday.
Even in conditions that felt more like the British Open than the Masters, Smith managed to make six birdies.
His only stumbling blocks came at No. 3, where a foul drive caused him to overshoot the green with his second shot, and at No. 16, where Smith had a chance to get up and down the bunker, but with a slick. Missed off, 5-foot bar.
“I hit a really good shot, and you really try to miss it there,” Smith said of that second bogey. “This is probably the easiest bunker shot on the course. Not really my best bunker shot hit, but it is what this course has to offer you from time to time.”
Smith made nine back birdies in the first three rounds.
He knows he’ll need something else to chase Schaffler, so look for Smith to actually attack the greens after Sunday’s turn.
“I think you have to be really patient through the front. There are some birdie opportunities, but I think the last nine will definitely be the decision of the tournament,” he said. “You can give yourself plenty of looks if you’re hitting it well.”
Starting three shots back against the hottest player in the game, a man who won three of his last five tournaments to claim the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, means Smith will end his job for him.
He is eager to challenge.
“Hopefully everything will be fine,” Smith said. “I can’t control what anyone else is going to do tomorrow. So just go out there and really focus on yourself.”
Someone jokingly asked if this modern-day Samson might consider cutting down his trademark mullet to try to knock Schaeffler off his game.
You probably know the answer to this.
“No,” Smith retorted. “Definitely not.”
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