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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Cameron Smith teed off at 11:05 a.m. ET on Saturday at The Northern Trust, nearly three hours ahead of the front-runners and seven strokes off the lead. Nearly 4 ½ hours later, he was eyeing a 12-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to become the 12th player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59.
Here’s how it happened:
He was tied for 25th following a second-round 68 and a notably poor effort off the tee, so finding the fairway at the first was something of a relief and led to a quick birdie – an 8-footer that caught the right edge of the cup.
He added two more birdies, at Nos. 2 and 3, to move to 3 under on a day that had already seen one player (Corey Conners) post a 62 and another (Doug Ghim) go for 63, but even when he turned at 6 under, he had no misplaced visions of a record round.
“I think I shot 62 at my home club in Brisbane. But 62 out there is not 62 [at Liberty National], yeah, completely different spot for me,” he said.
It wasn’t until his birdie at No. 14 – a 10-footer from right of the hole – that his mind began to drift to the magic number.
“I think I was 9 under then, just wanted to press on and wanted to see what I could do,” the Australian said. “I knew it was going to be a big ask.”
When he missed his eagle attempt at the short, par-4 16th hole – a 16-footer up the hill – he figured his shot at glory was gone.
“Last two holes here are pretty brutal, especially 18,” he said. “I know it wasn't windy out there today but I thought I had to get myself one ahead going into those last two holes.”
But he did birdie the penultimate hole – a 4-footer into the center of the cup – to set the stage for a dramatic finish at the last.
“I actually thought it was going to kind of stay straight and then drop a little bit right there at the end off the bunker, and yeah, just didn't do it,” he said of his birdie attempt at No. 18 the slid by the hole. “I hit a pretty good putt, good speed, looking back at it I don't know how I read it to go that way but it is what it is.”
Smith had to settle for a course-record 11-under 60, a share of the lead with Jon Rahm and an entire Sunday to think about what could have been with the final round pushed to Monday by Tropical Storm Henri.
“I always think it's hard to back up a really good round, so maybe the day off will help me out,” he figured.