With win at Sony Open, 26-year-old jumps 23 spots in Olympic Golf Ranking
Chris Cox/PGA TOUR
TOKYO – As Cameron Smith surged back into contention at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Ian Baker-Finch made sure he had plenty of motivation to pull off the comeback.
Baker-Finch will once again serve as the Australian team captain for this summer’s Olympic Games. And if a second PGA TOUR victory wasn’t enough incentive for Smith, one of a coveted few spots in Tokyo certainly was.
“I spoke to Ian (on Saturday),” Smith said. “I know he is egging for me to get on the team. I’ll be trying my best, for sure. I definitely want to be there and wear that green and golf as much as I can.”
Smith took a big step toward accomplishing that goal on Sunday, as he erased a two-stroke deficit with two holes to play before surviving in a playoff over Brendan Steele. It was his first solo victory on TOUR and second overall, as he also won the 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans with teammate Jonas Blixt.
With the win, Smith jumped 23 spots to No. 31 in the Olympic Golf Rankings. He trails Marc Leishman by just three spots in a bid to become Australia’s second participant.
Adam Scott continues to pace the field at No. 13. Jason Day rounds out the list of Aussies in contention, as he dropped three spots to No. 40.
Wade Ormsby, who also won this weekend at the Hong Kong Open, rose 84 spots to No. 144 in the rankings.
“This is one that I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time,” said Smith, who also moved to No. 5 in the FedExCup standings. “I’ve been out here four or five years now, and to finally say that I have won an event by myself is quite good.”
Smith’s outlook didn’t look so promising midway through the final day, as Steele built a three-shot advantage when he holed out from the bunker at No. 11. But the American began to falter down the stretch, missing a par putt at the 16th before failing to get up-and-down for par at 72nd hole.
That opened the door for Smith, who sunk an 8-foot birdie putt at the last to force a playoff before going on to win after hitting his approach shot to 10 feet at the 10th. Steele hit his wedge shot over the green before missing the ensuing par putt, allowing Smith to two-putt for the victory at rain-soaked Waialae Country Club.
It was an especially poignant win for Smith, who earlier in the week pledged $500 for every birdie and $1,000 for eagle he made in order to assist in the bushfire crisis currently plaguing Australia. His uncle, Warren, lost his home and most of his farm and temporarily had to evacuate to Smith’s home in Brisbane from Tumbarumba.
Smith ended the tournament with 21 birdies, good for $10,500 toward the cause.
“Every birdie putt I had, just meant that little bit more. Rather than kind of wanting to make it, I almost felt like I had to make it,” Smith said. “I’ve always been quite good at not giving up. I’ve never felt the need to kind of mentally check out in any way. It was a big fight all week, basically.”
Smith will look to build on his Olympic Games résumé when he returns to action Jan. 23-26 at the Farmers Insurance Open.