Cameron Smith got his 2022 off to just about the perfect start at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii at the weekend.
The Australian hardly put a foot wrong as he posted a PGA Tour record score of 34 under par to fight off the challenge of world No1 Jon Rahm and compatriot Matt Jones. This was the best I’ve ever seen him play.
This stat tells you how stiff the competition was: only four men have ever finished 31 under par or lower at a PGA Tour event, and three of them – Smith, Rahm and Jones – came on Sunday.
Of course they had some help from the conditions. The Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort is magnificent but usually battered by trade winds. Without them, it can turn into a birdie-fest.
Some might not like that. Personally, I think it’s more exciting when it’s flat like last week because you get to see just what the world’s best players can do.
Rahm made a very strong return to action and will feel like he couldn’t really have done much more to win. He started the day tied for the lead with Smith and shot a seven-under 66, only to miss out by one stroke.
Jones, meanwhile, is great fun to watch. At a time when there are concerns about slow play, this man is the antidote. He played Saturday and Sunday in a PGA Tour record 23 under par.
Whatever Rahm and Jones threw at him, Smith just kept coming back, however. Four of his eight birdies came on the last six holes, including a clincher at 18. He was magnificent.
Cameron Smith has no clear weaknesses
Now 28, Smith seems to be improving with age. He has a really lovely swing, terrific rhythm and no obvious weaknesses.
His attitude is great and he seems to have no fear. Coming up against Rahm, who is the US Open champion and hits it a mile, could have been daunting but instead brought out a sterling performance.
Australia, and the sandbelt near Melbourne in particular, is a great breeding ground for golfers, especially given the type of golf that predominates now.
Those exceptionally fast greens are a great place to learn your game.Smith has all the attributes and he is putting it all together in impressive fashion.
He’s now a career-high 10th in the world rankings, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, to go with two wins at the Australian PGA Championship, and has three top-five finishes at majors under his belt.
While those events may be his next target, I don’t think he’ll be too fixated on it. Smith just needs to keep doing what he is doing, enjoy playing golf, and the rest will surely follow.
My players to watch in 2022
Smith is one player to watch this year, but there are a few others whose seasons I’m looking forward to following.
Viktor Hovland enjoyed a magnificent 2021, winning three times, including his last two events of the year. He is yet to sustain a challenge at a major but it is still new to the 24-year-old. I think the Masters, where he was the low amateur in 2019, is the one he’ll have his eye on.
Sam Horsfield and Laurie Canter are two English talents who appear to be on the up. Calum Hill, Bob MacIntyre and Grant Forrest, meanwhile, are fellow Scots who already have wins under their belts at the top level. I’m interested to see how they all do in 2022.
And could this be the year that Rory McIlroy finally wins a major championship again? I think so.
Having gleaned what he could from Pete Cowen, Rory has returned to his childhood coach, Michael Bannon, and the signs towards the end of last year were promising.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam.