The 150th Open Championship was a classic and Cameron Smith was magnificent in winning the Claret Jug with a record-equalling score, yet at times it was also tough to watch.
Smith barely put a foot wrong in a final round of 64 that propelled him past joint overnight leader Rory McIlroy and into the lead at St Andrews.
His back nine, which started with five consecutive birdies, will go down as one of the best ever played on the way to winning a major.
The Australian’s two-putt at the 17th hole was sublime. His putt around and over the bunker could so easily have gone wrong but he hit it perfectly to 12 feet and rolled it in beautifully.
Smith was as cool as a cucumber at this unusually warm Open, and brave too. He never backed off anything all week, as he showed by the way he attacked the pin at 17.
His scoring proves how good this performance was. Conditions might have been easier than at many Opens, but no one has ever shot better than the 20 under par he managed.
Tough to watch McIlroy lose putting battle with Smith
As good as Smith was, it was tough to watch McIlroy’s hopes of winning a fifth major and his first since 2014 fade on Sunday afternoon.
I honestly thought Rory was going to win, the way he and the course were playing, and I don’t think that Smith actually played any better than he did on the final day.
He certainly putted better, though, and that was the difference. McIlroy didn’t do anything wrong and hit good putts, but they just wouldn’t go in.
It is all very well saying he should have been more aggressive on the greens but he was in control – until Smith made that run of five birdies in a row. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I don’t think McIlroy will have woken up on Monday feeling like he let the Open slip from his grasp in any way, shape or form. He played the way he wanted to play.
He has to take the positives – he has finished in the top 10 of all four majors this year – and accept that it just wasn’t his week.
Improving Smith has every attribute
I am very pleased for Smith, though, who’s a breath of fresh air. Unassuming and always calm, he’s a silent assassin and a beautiful player who boasts every attribute.
He has a lovely rhythm, an almost old-school swing – no thrashing at the ball – and a sublime short game.
I don’t know if we’ve seen a better putter for a long time, either. There is nothing mechanical about Smith’s action, it’s all natural talent.
Over the last season or two the 28-year-old has really grown in confidence. He’ll have taken so much belief from winning the Players Championship in March, which was a big step up.
There and at the Open, Smith has shown that he can handle any pressure. We’ll wait and see just how good he can be, but with a game like his not much can go wrong.
Terrific Young catches the eye at another major
Cameron Young ended up pushing Smith all the way to the last hole with a fantastic performance to earn second place and alert a lot of people to his ability.
Not everyone will have known too much about the 25-year-old American, who only turned professional three years ago and joined the PGA Tour in 2021.
But he caught the eye when finishing third at the US PGA Championship in May and this was another very impressive display, capped by a terrific eagle at 18.
Of the rest, Tommy Fleetwood had a great week as he shared fourth place with Viktor Hovland, who is a future star but lost his share of the lead with a poor final round of 74.
They were all beaten by a magnificent show from Smith, the third first-time men’s major winner this year. That just shows how much quality there is in world golf right now.
From a wonderful Champions Challenge on Monday until the last hole on Sunday, this was a classic staging of the Open Championship.
In difficult conditions the Old Course stood up and remained a tough test fitting for the 150th edition of golf’s oldest major tournament.
Sam Torrance OBE is a former Ryder Cup-winning captain and one of Europe’s most successful golfers. Follow him @torrancesam