Cameron Smith reels in the biggest first-place prize on the PGA Tour

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.—Cameron Smith was asked last August what he would do with the $15-million (U.S.) top prize for winning the PGA Tour’s season-long race to the FedExCup. He didn’t think much of it, and said he might buy some new fishing equipment.

Smith won the biggest first-place prize in golf Monday, a $3.6-million (U.S.) cheque at The Players Championship that can most certainly buy a big number of rods and reels.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.”

The Australian put together the best putting performance ever seen at The Players and navigated the wild weather, including more rain Monday, to win by one shot over Anirban Lahiri.

“I felt really comfortable on the range with my irons and I knew if I could somehow get it in the fairway, I felt it was mine to win from the start,” Smith said. “I feel really comfortable on the greens around here, so I just needed to get it on the fairway.”

Smith made four birdies in a row to start his day (and was 5 under through six) but made bogey on Nos. 7, 8 and 9. After settling himself, he birdied the next four holes and added another on the tricky island-green 17th.

Smith, who won the Tournament of Champions to start the calendar year in Hawaii, knocked his approach in the water on the 72nd hole and dropped a shot on the par-4 finisher. But Lahiri hit his approach short and couldn’t convert a birdie chip, leaving Smith the champion. He became the third golfer to win multiple times on the PGA Tour this season and the fifth Australian to win The Players.

Smith’s 6-under 66 Monday included 10 birdies but it wasn’t the best round of the day. Dustin Johnson shot a 9-under 63 to tie the course record at TPC Sawgrass and finish at 7 under overall.

The tournament ended Monday for the first time since 2005, with golfers playing nearly 30 holes each on Sunday and Monday.

“It was obviously a long week,” Smith said. “Today I think I just kind of held in there. Lots of birdies, kept staying aggressive, kept trying to make birdies.”

Smith was part of the 2019 Presidents Cup team that also featured Canadian Adam Hadwin, who was in the mix until late Monday.

The Abbotsford, B.C., golfer was just one shot back at one point but looking at the leaderboard may have done him in. He made a late bogey but still tied for ninth at 7 under, his second top-10 result of the season and his first since October.

Given how many starts and stops there were all week, Hadwin said he kept things solid through Sunday and Monday.

“Nerves are there. You’ve got to trust what you’re doing. I did that very well for the most part all week,” he said. “There was a lot of golf played at times and very little golf played at times. I think we’re all happy to be done.”

Taylor Pendrith, of Richmond Hill, closed with a 69 to tie for 13th at 6 under. Corey Conners, of Listowel, Ont., had a 70 was tied for 26th at 4 under.

Pendrith said he was battling a rib injury for the final round. The PGA Tour rookie still took a lot of positives from the week.

“It’s the best field in golf and I was right there for most of the week,” he said. “It gives me more confidence that I can play with the best on a tough golf course.”

Correction — March 15, 2022: This story has been updated from a previously published version to correct the number of strokes that Cameron Smith won by.

AS Adam Stanley is an Ottawa-based contributor to the Star’s Sports section and the host of golf podcast Next Round’s On Me. Follow him on Twitter: @adam_stanley