ST. ANDREWS, Scotland—Cameron Smith stepped into a fairway bunker about three feet below his ball, which was perched precariously on the lip of the trap.
The Australian had seen his overnight lead disappear in a frustrating third round at the British Open and here he was on 13th hole of the Old Course with a big decision to make.
Play it safe and somehow get the ball back in play. Or go for the bold shot that had danger all over it.
He chose the wrong option.
Reaching up and out of the bunker with his iron, Smith skimmed a low, ugly shot about 100 yards into a heather bush and swung his club in anger. Then he hacked out into more rough on a bank in front of the green, and failed to get up and down.
A double-bogey 6 was the low point of a round that ended on No. 18 like so many holes did for the man with perhaps the most famous haircut in golf—Smith leaning over in anguish after missing a birdie putt.
He began Saturday with a two-shot lead, the lowest 36-hole total in a British Open at St. Andrews, and in a strong position for a run at a first major title.
He ended it four behind Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, and with plenty of regrets after his 1-over 73 that left him tied for third place at 12 under.
“It wasn’t my day,” Smith said, “to get something like that (on No. 13) after an already frustrating 11 or 12 holes.”
Smith made 255 feet of putts on Friday, when he shot an eight-under 64, but only about 50 in his third round. He missed a par putt from 4 feet at the first hole and more short birdie putts at the fifth, 15th and 18th holes.
“It was quite frustrating,” Smith said. “It’s probably the best I’ve struck the ball all week. I had lots of opportunities.”
Also heading in the wrong direction late on Moving Day was Dustin Johnson, the former No. 1 who—as one of the players to have joined the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour—is used to only playing 54 holes these days.
While Smith was making bad decisions in the rough on No. 13, Johnson was on the par-5 14th, rolling an eagle putt through the green and into a bunker, from which he had to splash out away from pin.
A realistic chance of a birdie turned into a tap-in for bogey, and that mistake seemed to get to him.
Johnson bogeyed two of his next three holes, then hit a drive lower than he wanted to on No. 18 and nearly struck Swilcan Bridge in front of the tee box. Somehow, Johnson emerged with a birdie for a round of 71 that started with birdies at Nos. 2 and 3, putting him one shot off the lead at the time.
Johnson was alone in seventh place, six shots off the lead. He is the best-placed LIV player but unlikely now to be lifting the claret jug, which will no doubt suit the R&A.
As the sun disappeared and the pressure mounted in the early evening, there were mistakes everywhere on the closing stretch of the Old Course on Saturday.
Take Cameron Young, the 25-year-old American playing in his first British Open and in the final pairing of the third round.
He was at 14 under and just a shot off the lead when he took on the flag at the par-4 No. 16, which was playing one of the toughest holes all day. Young’s ball bounced off to the right over the green, and his return chip flew past the pin and down the slope. He wound up with a double bogey.
Young looked like dropping another when he hit his second shot way too hard and through the 18th green, but managed to save par.
He starts the final round four shots off the lead, like he was at the Professional Golfers Association Championship at Southern Hills in May where he finished in a tie for third.
Image credits: AP