Record-setting Cameron Smith has suffered golfing heartbreak for the third event running, losing a sudden-death playoff at the US PGA Tour’s opening FedExCup play-offs event in New Jersey.
The joint 54-hole leader with world No.1 Jon Rahm after posting a spectacular course-record 60 on Saturday, Smith gifted victory to American Tony Finau when he drove out of bounds on the first extra hole at the Northern Trust Open.
Both players had finished at 20-under 264, after Smith closed with a four-under 67 and Finau recorded a final-round-low 65 at Liberty National.
Rahm, in control for most of Monday’s delayed final round, faltered down the stretch to finish third at 18 under after dropping two shots in his last three holes.
Without a win since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, Finau has been knocking on the door relentlessly since in search of a second PGA Tout title.
The 31-year-old has posted 11 top-3s since, and 39 top-10s, including five in his past eight major championships.
The world No.22 had also lost three events in playoffs.
“Man, this is pretty cool to be standing here again and winning a golf tournament,” Finau said, after his two-putt par on the first play-off hole broke his 143-tournament title drought.
“It took just about everything I had. It feels amazing.”
As well as the spoils, Finau rocketed into the lead of the FedExCup standings and into pole position for a mega $US15 million ($21m) bonus pay day at season’s end.
Smith has soared from 16th to third in the standings before the second play-offs event, the BMW Championship in Maryland.
“Yeah, that’s why we’re here. We’re here for the FedExCup. Luckily for us there’s always next week.”
Countrymen Marc Leishman, Cam Davis and Matt Jones also progressed to tee it up on Thursday after maintaining their positions in the top 70.
But the season is over for former world No.1s Jason Day and Adam Scott after they missed the cut in New Jersey.
Despite being well placed in the FedExCup race before next month’s 30-man Tour Championship in Atlanta, Smith rued what might have been after yet another agonising near miss.
The 28-year-old bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss a bronze medal playoff at the Tokyo Olympics.
Then, while sharing the lead heading up the last hole again, Smith racked up a brain-snap double-bogey at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational two weeks ago.
Two days earlier, Smith needed just 18 putts to negotiate TPC Southwind in Memphis – the fewest in one round in PGA Tour history.
Alas, the Queenslander has been unable to parlay his historic feats into a fourth win in America.
He spent most of Monday gallantly playing catch-up after almost dumping two balls in the water en route to a somewhat miraculous double-bogey six on the fifth hole.
Despite clawing his way back into a share of the lead, then having a 23-foot putt on the 18th for victory, Smith will lament that early blunder, plus a lip-out on No.15.
The trophy seemed to be in Rahm’s hands until the fast-finishing Finau completed the back nine in 30 shots, courtesy of a five-under blitz in five holes from the 12th to 16th holes.
If Smith wasn’t finished after slicing his tee shot out of bounds playing the 18th again, he certainly was after barely keeping his second ball in play and having to chip out of a fairway bunker.
“My driver has cost me a few tournaments this year,” he said.
“That makes mean more determined to try and figure it out before the end of the year.”