AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Cameron Smith closed his eyes once, closed them twice, then let his club slip from his right hand.
He knew right away.
Before Smith's tee shot on the 12th hole during the final round of the Masters splashed into Rae's Creek — taking the 28-year-old Australian's hopes of winning his first major along with it — he was already looking away in disgust.
Things didn't get any better from there. His pitch shot from the penalty area sailed over the green. Another iffy pitch and two putts later, he tapped in for a triple bogey that dropped him six shots back of eventual champion Scottie Scheffler. Smith, the world's sixth-ranked player, posted a 1-over 73 to finish tied for third with Shane Lowry.
The Brisbane-born Smith said he had hoped the folks back home would wake around 5 a.m. to watch him take aim at tracking down Scheffler. The early returns provided those who tuned in with a noncaffeinated jolt. He birdied each of the first two holes to trim a three-shot deficit to just one.
It would be as close as Smith would get. Scheffler chipped in for birdie on the par-4 third while Smith bogeyed from nearly the exact same spot. A bogey at the par-3 fourth dropped Smith four back. He calmly drained a 15-foot birdie on the difficult par-4 11th to move to three shots behind.
The momentum lasted all of five minutes.
The treacherous 12th is where countless hopes of victories at Augusta National have gone to die. Smith's leaky tee shot that never made it all the way across Rae's Creek added him to a list that includes Jordan Spieth in 2016, Greg Norman in 1996 and Francesco Molinari in 2019.
Clearly rattled, the player known for his mullet haircut seemed to let his anger get ahold of him. He slammed his club into the turf after pitching onto the 13th green well past the hole, leading to a par when he desperately needed a birdie.
His tee shot on the 14th went into the trees on the left, leading to a bogey. In the span of 20 minutes, what looked potentially doable quickly morphed first to doubtful, then impossible.
While Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa were up ahead splashing in birdies from the greenside bunker at the 18th to leapfrog Smith on the leaderboard, he was bending his driver across his shoulders in frustration, the second-hottest golfer on the planet behind Scheffler stumbling under the pressure of the back nine at Augusta National.
The erratic round capped four days of wild swings for Smith. He arrived at the Masters well-rested, three weeks removed from a gritty one-stroke win at The Players Championship, then started with with a 4-under 68 to trail Sungjae Im by just one.
An opening 39 on Friday led to a 2-over 74, leaving him six shots off Scheffler's pace. He responded with a 68 in the unusual spring chill, the best round of a borderline miserable day to get him within three of Scheffler.
A duel between the two players who came in having won five tournaments combined this year appeared in the offing after Smith's early birdies Sunday.
It quickly fell apart after that hot start.
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