It was a ball-striking performance that could have produced anything for Cam Smith on Saturday.
But the last Aussie standing at The Open couldn’t finish the job with the flatstick, Smith notching 32 putts on a frustrating afternoon at Royal Portrush.
An even-par-71 was probably the highest number the Queenslander could have signed for in the third round after 14 greens in regulation led only to a string of mid-range birdie tries that refused to drop.
A potentially career-defining 63 from Shane Lowry has earned him a four-shot buffer over the field at 16-under and puts the Irishman ten strokes clear of Smith, who remains at 6-under.
It was a throwback to Thursday for the World No.42, Smith also walking off the course on day one rueing a lack of production with the putter.
“It was very up and down. I felt as though I struck it the best I’ve struck it all week,” Smith said.
“I hit lots of good putts, some were short, some were over the edge. It was just one of those days.”
“I just couldn’t get the pace of the greens today, it felt like everything from 15 to 20 feet I was leaving everything a foot or two short.
“I felt like I was hitting good, solid putts, they just weren’t getting there.”
Smith earned himself a try at birdie on every hole on the front nine, after missing just one fairway, but he could only pick up one stroke on the par-5 second, a shot he gave straight back with a three-putt on the next hole.
He finished two inches behind the hole from 30 feet on four before a similar result from half the distance on five.
A brilliant driver off the deck from the fairway at seven finished in a two-putt par and putting from above the hole on nine saw Smith make the turn in even-par.
His first bogey of the week on the back nine came after a missed fairway at 10 and the fireworks began from there.
Smith’s tee shot on the par-5 12th sailed way left, but an unbelievable 6-iron from the long grass bounded up the false front, settling barely a foot from the hole.
He cleaned up for eagle and the Queenslander finally saw one drop after a sweet stroke from 15 feet on the par-3 13th.
Smith vaulted to 8-under for the tournament, at that point just four strokes off leader Lowry, and suddenly the shackles seemed to have broken loose.
“As I was walking off the 12th tee I said to my caddie let’s just try and get to 8-under, just three more,” Smith said.
“And then it happened so quickly, it was almost like we had to readjust.”
Smith’s approach to the par-4 14th was a rare unforced error but it cost him dearly.
From a tricky lie Smith’s bunker shot sailed over the wall of grass in front of him and over the other side of the green, setting up a crippling double-bogey.
“On 14 I hit a pretty solid drive and then a shot into the green that really wasn’t that bad,” Smith said.
“I got a bit of a goofy lie and ended up making six. That’s just golf sometimes.”
By that point Lowry had rocketed to 13-under and two more missed mid-rangers for birdie on 15 and 17 – as well as a near chip-in on 16 – might have dashed the Australian’s hopes.
But with top five finishes born from Sunday charges at the US Open (2015) and The Masters (2018) on his CV already, Smith will be fully committed to a strong finish to his 2019 major season tomorrow.
“I said if we hit it like that tomorrow, I think the conditions are going to be pretty bad tomorrow, if we hit it like that and a few of the putts go in we’ll be right up there,” Smith said.
“I don’t feel as though I’ve left myself out of the tournament, I just feel as though it could’ve been better.”
Smith will have American sensation Xander Schauffele in tomorrow’s final round, teeing off at 12:27pm local time (9:27pm AEST).