KAPALUA, Hawaii — No one ever finished more under par in PGA Tour history than Cameron Smith, and he never had a moment to enjoy the ride until his final birdie putt Sunday in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Not with Jon Rahm, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, on his heels every step of the way. Not with Matt Jones making a pair of eagles and a 50-foot birdie putt in a span of five holes to stay in the game.
In the best scoring conditions Kapalua has experienced in the 24 times it has hosted the winners-only start to the new year, Smith was relentless all the day down to the three-foot birdie putt he made on the 18th hole of the Plantation Course for an 8-under-par 65 and a one-shot victory over Rahm (66).
"Mate, it was intense," said Smith, a 28-year-old Australian who now has four PGA Tour wins (two of them team victories in New Orleans) to go with a pair of Australian PGA Championship victories. "It was pretty crazy. I felt like I needed to make a birdie to kind of keep up with him or stay in front."
Smith finished at 34-under 258, and some context is in order.
Only three players in tour history had finished at 30 under or lower. Ernie Els set the record of 31 under at Kapalua in 2003 and won by eight shots. Jordan Spieth shot 30 under in 2016, also winning by eight. Dustin Johnson shot 30 under at TPC Boston in 2020 and won the FedEx Cup playoffs' Northern Trust by 11.
Again: Smith won by a stroke.
"Unreal round. Something I'll never forget," Smith said.
Jones closed with a 61 as he became the third player in the tournament to tie the course record — Rahm and Justin Thomas hit the mark in Saturday's third round — and wound up third at 32 under, six shots ahead of fourth-place Patrick Cantlay (67). Another stroke back in fifth were Daniel Berger (69), Collin Morikawa (62) and Thomas (65).
Baylor School graduate Harris English, whose two PGA Tour wins in 2021 included the Tournament of Champions, finished at 14 under to tie for 30th out of 38. However, he improved each day, closing with a 67 after opening 73-70-68.
The low scores came as a talented field capitalized on four days of sunshine and not even enough wind to move a palm frond on a layout with soft fairways — thanks to heavy rain before the elite players arrived on the western edge of Maui — and greens that were never more pure.
Rahm never shot worse than a 66 and made 32 birdies, tying the PGA Tour record for a 72-hole event shared by Paul Gow at the B.C. Open and Mark Calcavecchia in the Phoenix Open, with both events in 2001. The previous record for low score to par without winning was Bryson DeChambeau, who finished at 27 under in the BMW Championship at Caves Valley last year and lost to Cantlay in a playoff.
"I have every reason to be smiling," Rahm said about his score. "It's a bittersweet moment."
Playing for the first time since Oct. 15, the reigning U.S. Open champion did all he could, but Smith never gave Rahm an opening.
They started the final round tied for the lead, but Smith pulled ahead with a four-foot birdie putt on No. 4 and a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth. Rahm closed within one shot with a 15-foot birdie on the 11th, and they matched birdies and pars on the same holes the rest of the way.
"This golf course only has one defense, and that's the wind," Rahm said. "If people are shooting between 20 and 26 under with 20-mile-an-hour winds, what do you expect us to do when there's absolutely no wind?"
Smith became the sixth player to have won at both Hawaii stops on the PGA Tour. He won the Sony Open in Honolulu two years ago in a playoff. He also moved to No. 10 in the world, his highest ranking and one of his goals for the year that he ticked off in the first week.
Rahm easily kept his No. 1 ranking and did little wrong in his return from the longest break of his professional career. He had a 20-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead on the 17th, his last good chance to catch Smith, that narrowly missed.
On the par-5 closing hole, Smith came up just short of the green. His putt from 90 feet slowed to a stop about three feet from the hole. That meant Rahm had no choice but to hole a 50-foot eagle putt from just off the green, and it just missed on the high side.
Jones tried to join the race, holing out for eagle on the 13th, making a four-foot eagle putt on the 15th and holing a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th before closing with a birdie. On this day, it wasn't enough.
"If you told me I would have shot 32 under," Jones said, "I would have been more than happy to sit in the clubhouse and let everyone play and see what happens."