Cameron Smith putting, driving statistics, why Aussie hope is blowing minds

Cameron Smith is considered Australia’s best hope of winning the Masters in years, despite an astonishing anomaly in his game highlighted in a “once-in-a-lifetime” performance last month.

There’s bad news for Smith heading into golf’s premier event; he’s been stinking it up off the tee lately.

But the very good news? It’s in all likelihood not going to matter at Augusta, especially because the Aussie world No.6 has been putting and scrambling at levels perhaps never seen in the history of the sport.

Smith is among the legitimate 2022 tournament favorites in his bid to become only the nation’s second Masters champion behind Adam Scott and it’s not hard to see why. He’s one of the form players in the world this year, coming in off the back of a stunning victory at the Players Championship — widely considered golf’s unofficial ‘fifth major’.

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The 28-year-old Queenslander also has all-important form on the board at Augusta National. He finished second behind Dustin Johnson last year with a performance that would have been good enough for the green jacket in just about any other year. He’s finished top 10 in three of his last four Masters appearances, and a fascinating breakdown of his recent performances shows why his old-school game is so suited to the hallowed venue.

Smith has quickly emerged as one of, if not the best, short game players on tour and it’s just as well because his driving stats are not at all flattering. Despite climbing the world rankings with a bullet this year, he sits 161st on the PGA Tour for driving accuracy (54.95 per cent) this season.

Remarkably, the trend continued at the Players Championship, even though Smith was able to beat the world’s best at one of the hardest-to-win events in golf.

Smith was dead last in the field for driving accuracy (42.86) and 35th out of 70 in ‘tee to green’ stats that reflect every element of the game except putting. But what he lacked off the tee he more than made up for on and around the greens — his 101 putts throughout the week was an all-time record.

Golf pundit Nathan Hubbard, on the Fairway Rollin’ podcastcalled it “maybe a once-in-a lifetime kind of performance”.

“The last two winners of the event had led the field in tee to green (stats). Cam was 35th this week. He lost five strokes off the tee … It was insane,” Hubbard said.

“But when you gain 11.54 strokes in putting, when you one-putt 42 times in the tournament and on eight of your last nine holes, I mean it’s just jaw-dropping.

“… 68th in shots gained off the tee is the worst ranking by a winner on the PGA Tour in 15 years. That (his short game) is why he won.

“It’s like, good lord, what’s going to happen when he drives it well?”

Smith will undoubtedly be hoping to improve his driving this week but it’s unlikely to hold the key to him winning his breakthrough major, according to former Aussie golfer-turned pundit Paul Gow. Many great drivers have won the event but tactics, creativity and short game are considered more important.

“You don’t have to drive the ball great at Augusta National, you’ve just got to get it on the right side of the fairways and you’ve got to putt the eyes out of it,” Gow said on Fox Sports‘Masters preview show.

“I mean, 101 putts at the Players Championship…that was incredible.”

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Smith believes his creativity will hold him in good stead to tick off one of his biggest career goals.

“I feel like I play my best golf when I’m creative. And this course has so many slopes and stuff, you can work it off the greens firm and fast. And, yeah, I just love being creative,” he said.

“I’m not afraid to hit different shots around here. I think it can be very hard to hit the shot that you want to hit because if it doesn’t come off, you could be in some pretty deep trouble.

“I’m not afraid to do that. I want to hit the right shot, and I want to get it close.”

Aussie former US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy believes the ultra-composed Smith is “built for the big tournaments” and ready to break through.

“He always pops up at the big moments and now he’s sort of backing it up week-to-week,” Oglivy said.

“He’s one of the best players in the world and he’s got to be full of confidence. He’s got to be every chance.”

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