Australian Cameron Smith waited until the 72nd hole to catch Brendan Steele and then made par to win a sudden-death playoff for his first individual title on the PGA Tour.
“I just hung in there,” Smith told Golf Channel, “and what do you know?”
Smith rallied from three strokes behind entering the final round and canned a 9-foot birdie putt at 18 to shoot 2-under 68 and force extra holes.
On a water-logged Waialae Country Club that absorbed a steady rain and required squeegees on the 18th green that led to the use of preferred lies for the fourth straight round, Steele’s play was about as pretty as the weather, but it looked to be his day when he holed out from a plugged lie in a bunker for birdie at the 11th hole to stretch the lead back to three.
However, that turned out to be his last birdie of the tournament. Steele, 36, closed with a 1-over 71 and squandered a two-stroke lead with two holes to go, missing a 6-foot-par putt at 17 and then after waiting more than 15 minutes to hit his tee shot at 18, he pulled his second shot at the par 5 and couldn’t get his 28-foot birdie putt for the win to drop. For the first three days, Steele putted like Harry Houdini and led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting, but on Sunday he couldn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat. He didn’t make a putt longer than 6 feet and ranked dead last in the field in SGP.
“It hurts a lot,” said Steele, who fell to 1 for 5 in converting 54-hole leads. “Kind of everything that could have gone wrong went wrong today. I’m just a California kid who doesn’t like rain, so I was just trying to grind and I worked as hard as I could and it just wasn’t good enough.”
On the first playoff hole, Smith blocked his tee shot right, but he drew a decent lie and punched a low iron under a tree that chased to 10 feet below the hole. With Smith having applied the pressure, Steele tried to answer but his wedge from 87 yards away in the fairway flew the green and he pitched 15 feet past the hole and missed his par putt to the right. That allowed Smith, who showed his match-play moxie in beating Justin Thomas at the Presidents Cup, to cozy his birdie effort close to the hole and tap in to cap off the come-from-behind victory.
Smith, a native of Brisbane, was among the Aussie players in the field who pledged to donate $500 per birdie and $1,000 per eagle to aid the Australian wildfire effort. Smith contributed $10,500 to the cause.
“Every birdie putt just meant that little bit more,” he said. “Instead of wanting to make it, I felt like I had to make it.”
Smith was also a member of last month’s International Presidents Cup team, which announced on Saturday that it will be donating $125,000 to aid the cause.
Earlier in the day, fellow Aussie Wade Ormsby won the Hong Kong Open. That victory along with Smith’s will bring some much needed cheer back home, where fires continue to decimate parts of Australia. Smith’s Uncle, Warren, who lives in New South Wales, had his house burn to the ground with only a shed remaining when he drove back this week.
“It’s pretty tragic to see,” Smith said Friday. “I flew into Sydney to come here, and we probably couldn’t see – usually from Sydney airport you can see downtown, the skyline, Sydney skyline. You couldn’t see that. The smoke was pretty bad.”
Smith, 26, twice captured the Australian PGA Championship and previously had one victory to his credit on the PGA Tour, the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event with Jonas Blixt, but was winless in 115 starts in individual competitions.
“That’s been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time,” Smith told Golf Channel. “I’ve been out here four or five years now and to finally say I’ve won an event by myself is quite good.”
Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson both had chances to make birdie at the 72nd hole, which would have been enough for the playoff, but errant drives to the right cost them both. Simpson left a 15-foot birdie putt short, settling for 67 and his fourth top-3 finish in his last eight starts while Palmer (68) made bogey after hitting his second shot out of bounds from a fairway bunker and finished T-4 with Kevin Kisner and Graeme McDowell. The Northern Irishman fired an outward 5-under 30 en route to shooting 64 to earn his first top-10 since the RBC Canadian Open in June.
Smith, who was 4 over par through his first two holes of the tournament, and Steele, who ended a drought of 38 starts without a top 10, finished regulation with a 72-hole total of 11-under 269. That total matched the highest winning score in the event since Vijay Singh won in 2005.
“I just hope this brings a bit of a joy to Australia,” Smith said at the trophy ceremony. “I know we’re going through some tough times, but keep in there.”