RORY McILROY’S Major drought will stretch into a ninth year, as an extraordinary birdie blitz from Cameron Smith robbed him of the Claret Jug.
McIlroy played a bogey-free final round of 70 but was beaten by the Aussie with the mullet hairdo and the dodgy moustache, who claimed the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews thanks to a string of five birdies on the back nine.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, who has not added to his four Major titles since the 2014 U.S PGA, was the overnight co-leader alongside Norway’s Viktor Hovland and held a clear lead at the turn on day four.
But McIlroy, opting for a steady-as-you-go approach, was stunned by Smith – playing one group in front – lighting up the leaderboard with some razor-sharp putting.
With a winner’s cheque of £2.1million, Smith might be able to afford a decent barber.
This was the first major of the Aussie’s career, yet he was highly-fancied here, having finished second at the Masters and winning the Players Championship at Sawgrass this year.
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It was agony for McIlroy, 33, who may never have a better chance of adding to his haul of Majors than this – a final-hole eagle form Cameron Young even robbing the Brit of runners-up spot.
He did not choke and he did not chuck it away. Smith simply won it, fair and square.
The 28-year-old Queenslander carded an eight-under-par 64 to grab the most historic prize in the game and in doing so set a new record for the lowest final round by a champion at St Andrews.
It has been eight years, and 31 Majors, since McIlroy last landed a biggie – with 24 different players achieving the feat since the Northern Irishman prevailed.
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And while Saturday’s pairing with Hovland had been all smiles and first-bumps, here both Ryder Cup team-mates had their game faces on.
The atmosphere was tense, the weather close, storm flies gathering and, over the front nine, this was a slow-burner.
McIlroy was steady but he wasn’t draining any putts. Hovland missed a short one for par on the fourth – but the idea of an all-European duel for the crown was already subsiding.
The two Camerons, Smith and American Young, had both fallen away but they were regrouping with two birdies each over the first five.
McIlroy picked up an expected birdie on the par-five fifth but missed form 10 feet on six.
Then came the blitz from Smith. The first was expected, the tenth had been playing easy all day but then the mullet man’s putter got seriously hot.
He sank a 16-footer at the tricky par-three 11th, while McIlroy was rolling a monster eagle putt to within inches at 10.
On the 12th, Smith rolled one on from 12 feet. And on 13, seeing every hole like a bloody great bucket, he seized a share of the lead by sinking one from 18 feet.
Smith added yet another birdie at the long 14th to take the outright lead.
McIlroy was still bogey-free but beginning to feel the scoreboard pressure and when he three-putted from long distance on 14, the momentum was fully with Smith.
Meanwhile, Young – the little-known Open rookie from New York – had also carded back-to-back birdies, moving to within a shot of McIlroy and two of the lead.
Smith finally relented and settled for a par at 15 but McIlroy drove into the rough before matching him.
Finally, Smith made a false move at the Road Hole – his approach shot finding the rough, a bunker, separating him from the pin.
Yet Smith, utterly nerveless, putted round the sandtrap and then rolled in a 12-footer for par to stay in front.
He then boomed a drive down the 18th, rolled a putt close and bagged his eighth birdie for his second 64 of the tournament – producing 268 to record the lowest total of a winner at St Andrews.
Young sank an eagle putt on 18 to roar past McIlroy, who had just failed with a lengthy birdie putt on the Road Hole and could not manage the eagle he required at the last to force a play-off.
"This one is for Aus!"
Smith, who became the first Aussie to win The Open in 28 years, broke down in tears when speaking about his historic win.
An emotional Smith said: "I am going to fall apart I know.
"I want to thank my team for all the hard work we have done the last couple of years.
"This one definitely makes it worth it. Thanks to the R&A, fantastic week, St Andrews links, the volunteers and superintendent and everyone involved.
"It was awesome out there. The course was how an Open championship should be played. It was just unreal. Thank you guys so much.
"To the fans, I had a lot of support out there. Especially the Aussie guys, you kept me going out there. It seemed like there was a lot of you. This one is for Aus! Thanks guys.
"It's unreal. This place is so cool and to have the 150th Open here and to walk away with the win is something I have dreamed of. I didn't know I was going to get this far. It's awesome.
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"I'm lost for words. It's unreal to look at the names on this trophy and to add mine is unreal.
"I'm definitely going to find out how many beers fit in this thing (Claret Jug)."
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