Masters 2022: How Cameron Smith, with a little help from Augusta National, was able to tame the Tiger circus
Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau make their way down the first fairway amid the crowd that is gathered to watch Tiger Woods tee off in the first round of the Masters.
AUGUSTA, Ga.—On paper it was a bad draw for Cameron Smith, maybe the worst of draws and it had nothing to do with the weather or his pairing. The patrons had come to see the man playing behind Smith and that player alone, and you know exactly who that player is.
“I actually found myself a couple of times today, because we were waiting so much, just watching,” Smith admitted after his round. “I almost felt like a patron out there at some points today. You can't not watch him; he's unreal.”
This is usually the case but especially so this week, and anyone who doubts that needs to look three days prior when Tiger Woods made a Monday practice stroll look like a Sunday afternoon. There were similar scenes during Thursday’s first round of the Masters, and the gallery that surrounded Woods every move was loud and impressive and definitely big. If this were most tournaments, that scale would wreak havoc on those in front of Woods and those behind.
But this is not most tournaments and Smith has bested the tornado and Tiger himself, 68 to 71, to find himself near the top of the Thursday leader board.
“I love this place,” Smith said in the media center. “I know it presents plenty of birdies. I just really had to get in a groove.”
Rory McIlroy once said the crowd that engulfs Woods' every move costs Woods two shots a tournament. It’s probably true, but there is also collateral damage that needs accounting to those that have to play around the circus. The idea is that while fans are jostling for position to catch a glimpse of Woods, they don’t much care for what else is happening inside the ropes. For players, that usually means dealing with noise and moving scenery and just a general indifference to what you’re trying to do.
It is this type of damnatio ad bestias Smith and Bryson DeChambeau were expected to see Thursday afternoon (the third member, Paul Casey, withdrew due to injury before the round). For posterity, those crowds were large and full of vigor, so that when they roared it rolled like thunder. But the crowds did not deter those around Woods—or at least Smith; DeChambeau finished with a 76, although he is battling injury—for Augusta National and the Masters proved unique in combating the aforementioned obstacles.
For starters, the crowds are not as close to the competition as other events, the space wide and plentiful on most holes between players and patrons. There are a number of holes where patrons aren’t behind or near the green, severely reducing fan movement in approach sightlines.
Then there is the nature of the patrons themselves. The crowd that frequents the Masters is often considered the most well-behaved gallery in sports, an etiquette mandated five decades ago by Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones. "It is appropriate for spectators to applaud successful strokes in proportion to difficulty but excessive demonstrations by a player or his partisans are not proper because of the possible effect upon other competitors," Jones wrote. Though Woods has a gravitational pull that hauls in those who otherwise may not be interested, most on property continue to subscribe to Jones’ philosophy. There were no shouts of “Quiet, please” or “Hold still” from marshalls or caddies; the crowd stood at attention when called for.
Cameron Smith waves to the crowd while walking across the sixth hole during the first round of the Masters.
Perhaps Smith also benefited from the surprise and intrigue generated by this week especially. Woods’ participation seemed far-fetched as of two weeks ago, so patrons lined the fairways and greens of the first three holes well before Woods came through in hopes to see the revelation for themselves.
The gallery was 10 deep in spots as Smith played the first, and the sneaky secret about Augusta National’s front nine is that, regarding where patrons are allowed to go, there isn’t much room. Even if fans wanted to move there simply was the space to facilitate it, so everyone stood where they were. (The only person that got a pass was Kevin Kisner’s mom, who was able to move to the front of the rope line on a number of holes, thanks to a very nice lady saying, “Can y’all make way, this is Kevin Kisner’s mom.” The patrons acquiesced because this is the South and manners still matter.)
In that same vein, compared to past Tigermanias, there wasn’t as much skipping ahead after the opening holes. Most patrons could not stomach the idea of missing a shot. Any shot.
The annoyances weren’t completely gone; especially as the day went on and Tiger’s gallery somehow grew, there was a bit more movement to contend with. This was most noticeable on a handful of fairway crossings when Smith and DeChambeau were on the green. And even though the Tiger gallery was respectful, the crowd the size of a small city can only be so quiet.
“There was definitely a lot of noise,” Smith admitted. “I feel like today was a very long day. Given that Bryson and I were just playing by ourselves, lots of waiting. Lots of mental energy I think was exhausted today, so just a good rest would be nice.”
Of course, perhaps we are shorting Smith’s temerity and resolution. He is Australian attitude incarnate, undisturbed by his surroundings no matter the setting and beholden to an inner command only known to him. He showed that gall down the closing stretches of the Players Championship last month. He’s the type of cat that makes Dustin Johnson look stressed.
He is also a player and gave the patrons plenty to cheer about, racking up eight birdies in a 16-hole stretch Thursday. This is his happy place, boasting three top 10s-in his last four Masters starts, including a T-2 in 2020.
If Smith has anything to worry about its history. He doubled his first hole and doubled his last—a problem, because the last Masters winner to record multiple doubles in a week was Craig Stadler in 1982. That may bother a lesser soul.
“No, I've moved on already. The less you guys bring it up, the less, the quicker I'll forget about it,” Smith said with a laugh. “No, I'm done with it. I think the stuff in between was really nice, and yeah, just take the positives out of it.”
Makes sense. As Smith proved Thursday, he has a penchant for tuning out the noise.
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