Sony Open champion Cameron Smith has made his Olympic intentions well and truly known after his maiden individual PGA TOUR title resulted in a significant rise in the Official World Golf Rankings.
In a double week of celebrations for Aussie golfers, Smith’s playoff victory in Hawaii saw him rise 23 spots to No.31 in the world while Hong Kong Open champion Wade Ormsby climbed from 228 to 144 in the world courtesy of his Asian Tour triumph.
Adamant that team play brings out his best, Smith was inspirational on the final day of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in December and called on a different kind of motivation to triumph over Brendan Steele at Waialae Country Club on Oahu on Monday.
Staring down the barrel of a missed cut when he was 4-over through just two holes, Smith drew on his pledge to donate $500 per birdie for the bushfire appeal to not only fight his way back to even par at the end of day one but go on and win the tournament.
Smith’s Brisbane home served as a place of refuge for his uncle Warren who had been personally impacted by the bushfires ravaging the nation and the 26-year-old fought back tears as he spoke at the presentation ceremony of the destruction back home.
Less than 24 hours after fellow Australian Ormsby claimed the Hong Kong Open, Smith referred to the Aussie spirit on display during the crisis and why every one of the 21 birdies he made throughout the week carried extra weight.
“I just wanted to make birdies,” Smith said of bouncing back after his disastrous start to the tournament.
“It was tough the first three days to make birdies and I managed to scrape in a few.
“Every one of them, 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.
“Having to make the putts, feeling like something else is on the line, I think I drew a little bit from the Presidents Cup.
“I felt as though I played some of my best golf that week, and with such little time between these events I think that’s kind of rolled over definitely into this week.”
On top of the winner’s cheque for $US1,188,000, forthcoming invitation to play The Masters in April and immense personal satisfaction, Smith made a sizeable leap in the world rankings.
With the top two Australian-ranked players to be invited to take part in Tokyo, Smith now sits behind only Adam Scott (No.13) and Marc Leishman (No.28), surpassing fellow Queenslander Jason Day (No.40) with his Hawaiian triumph.
The two-time Australian PGA champion has already made his intentions known to Australian captain Ian Baker-Finch and said he would treasure the opportunity to represent his country in Tokyo.
“I spoke to ‘IBF’ about it, he’s going to be the captain again this year,” Smith said.
“I know he’s egging for me to get on the team and I’ll be trying my best for sure.
“I definitely want to be there and wear that green and gold as much as I can.”
Trailing by two shots entering Sunday’s final round, Smith’s even par round of 70 was most noteworthy not for the shots that he picked up but rather the ones that he saved.
For the third time over the four rounds he hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation and got up-and-down successfully on four occasions, a sand save on 18 delivering the birdie that he needed to tie Steele at the 72nd hole.
“I’ve always been quite good at not giving up,” said Smith, who ranked first for the week in Strokes Gained: Putting.
“I’ve never felt the need to kind of mentally check out in any way.
“Like you were saying before, I started bogey, triple bogey, and then finished that day even par and progressed from there.”