Unflappable as ever and looking unstoppable, Cameron Smith is embracing the tension and pressure after seizing command of the milestone 150th British Open with a second round for the ages.
Smith etched his name in golf’s history books after signing for a nerveless, bogey-free, eight-under-par 64 to snare a two-stroke lead on Friday.
The world No.6’s 13-under halfway total broke the St Andrews 36-hole Open scoring record – previously shared by Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Louis Oosthuizen.
Smith, though, will have a swag of the sport’s biggest names – including Open favourite Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, world No.1 Scottie Scheffler and inspired countryman Adam Scott – hunting him down in a mouth-watering weekend shootout at golf’s spiritual home.
But after further fuelling hopes of a first Australian winner of the famous Claret Jug since Norman at Royal St George’s in 1993, Smith said he’d never felt more ready to finally break through for his elusive first major.
“It’s just exciting to be leading the Open after a couple of days,” he said.
“That experience tomorrow is going to be really cool. There’s a lot of Aussies in the crowd, it seems like. Had a lot of support the first couple of days and really can’t wait for the next couple.
“It’s obviously a really good spot to be in. I feel like I’ve been in this spot a lot over the past couple of years, and things just haven’t quite gone my way yet.
“I’ve just got to be really patient over the weekend. I think the golf course is going to get a lot harder and a lot faster, so just be patient and make good putts.”
As he did all day Friday.
The scrambling wizard mixed some majestic iron play with a series of masterful long-range two-putts to amass six birdies and a rip-roaring eagle three on the par-five 14th where he rolled in a curving 64-footer to place the field on notice.
At that point, Smith threatened to equal the lowest round in men’s major history – Branden Grace’s 62 at the Royal Birkdale Open in 2017.
But not even missing out on only the third-ever 63 at St Andrews could wipe the smile off Smith’s face as the 28-year-old ended his magical round with a two-shot buffer over American first-round leader Cameron Young (69).
“That was pretty cool out there,” Smith said. “A lot of things went right but to do it here was awesome.”
Pre-Open favourite McIlroy (68) is three back in a tie for third with Viktor Hovland, who holed out for a spectacular eagle two on the 15th to jump the leaderboard with his round of 66.
Two-time major winner Johnson (67) is outright fifth at nine under, with Scheffler (68) and Englishman Tyrrell Hatton (66) a further stroke behind in a tie for sixth.
Scott was another stroke behind at seven under after himself shooting the best Open round of his career, a birdie-filled, bogey-free 65 in the breathless morning conditions.
On a star-stacked leaderboard, American trio Patrick Cantlay (67), Talor Gooch (69) and Sahith Theegala (68) share eighth place with Scott.
Rounding out a memorable day for Australian golf, Min Woo Lee (69) and Lucas Herbert (68) also remained in contention at six under in a tie for 12th with England’s US Open champion Matthew Fitzpatrick (66).
But it’s Smith everyone must catch as the Queenslander bids to become the first Australian since Norman claimed the Claret Jug, golf’s oldest and most prestigious championship, for a second time 29 years ago.
Ominously for the chasing pack, Smith’s 67-64 start bettered Oosthuizen’s 65-67 opening to the 2010 Open at the home of golf when the South African converted his 12-under halfway total into a memorable seven-shot triumph on Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday.
Faldo won by five after also starting with 65-67 at St Andrews in 1990, with Norman consigned to a share of sixth following his opening pair of 66s that year.