The World No. 3 golfer can’t climb to No. 1, but Cam Smith is making peace with it

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Despite winning five times worldwide in 2022—including his first major championship—there’s one milestone Cameron Smith will miss out on. At No. 3 on the Official World Golf Rankings, the reigning Open champion will not be able to reach No. 1 given this week’s Australian Open is his last tournament of the year and is awarding minimal points.

The 29-year-old Australian catapulted to World No. 2 in July after his victory at St. Andrews, which followed wins at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Players Championship earlier in the year. But Smith’s move to LIV Golf in September saw his ranking drop to No. 3 despite registering a playoff loss and a win in five starts on the controversial Saudi-backed circuit since LIV 54-hole, no-cut events do not award OWGR points.

Smith returned to 72-hole stroke play at last week’s Australian PGA Championship in Brisbane, where he claimed 10 OWGR points for winning the event for a third time in his career. But a relatively low strength of field at the Aussie Open in means only 11 points will be given to its winner. That’s despite the event being co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and having some notable Australians in the men’s field, including fellow PGA Tour winners including Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Cam Davis and Lucas Herbert, as well as DP World Tour winners Rasmus and Nicolai Hojgaard, Ryan Fox and Min Woo Lee.

On the other side of the world, Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, also being played this week, is projected to award about 29 points to the winner. World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler is far enough ahead of Smith in points that he could overtake Rory McIlroy with a Hero win. But Smith’s ranking is unlikely to change at all, even if he leaves Australia with a second title.

“I don’t know; it’s hard to say,” Smith responded on Tuesday at Kingston Heath, co-host for the first two rounds with Victoria G.C. as the women’s and men’s Australian Opens are played concurrently for the first time in history. “I’m right up there. I’m still third on the [OWGR], somehow. But as time goes on, I think those rankings become more and more irrelevant, especially with not getting World Ranking points in LIV events. It’s a bit of a shame, but it is what it is. I’ve kind of had to deal with that for the last four months. I feel like I’m playing some really, really solid golf.”

Then Smith added, “Yeah … it is a bit of a pain in the bum.”

Using some very Australian language, Smith’s countryman Herbert said Smith likely should be at least World No. 2 based on his results.

“I think if you ask any [player] here, that ‘bloke’ cleaning the [hospitality] tent over there, they will tell you that Cam Smith is the bloke to beat this week. He’s probably the second-best golfer in the world right now,” Herbert said. “I don’t know whether rankings are reflective of that, but he’s had the season that would prove it. He’s proven that on multiple different venues, different styles of golf courses.”

Smith had a chance to ascend to World No. 1 at the opening event of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, where he was in 54-hole contention only to be penalized for an incorrect drop in the third round moments before his final round tee time.

While missing out on No. 1 (he likely won’t play in another OWGR event until the 2023 Masters) may be a frustrating, Smith said it wouldn’t detract from his goal Down Under: finally winning his national open. Smith admits it’s one of the biggest holes in his résumé, having lost in a playoff to Jordan Spieth at Royal Sydney in 2016, which was Spieth’s second Australian Open crown. Smith also finished fourth in 2017 and a tied 10th in 2018.

“My goal coming down here was to win both of these tournaments, and it’s nice to tick one off,” Smith said of his first trip to Australia in three years due to the country’s COVID-19 border restrictions. “At Royal Sydney, Spieth beat me in a playoff. He was having a pretty stellar year [two PGA Tour wins and runner-up at the 2016 Masters]. That one hurt a little bit; that would have been my first win as a pro and would have been a pretty neat one to win. I’ve also played really solid in other Australian Opens but haven’t got that close since. There’d be no better week to win it than [this week] on the Melbourne [Sandbelt].”

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