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Cameron Smith was “holding back the tears” as he returned the Claret Jug on Monday – but the Australian fired an ominous warning to the rest of the field ahead of his Open defence at Royal Liverpool.

Smith was reflecting on the “most stressful but enjoyable five minutes” of his life as he reminisced about walking up the 18th at St Andrews after his epic charge to his maiden major title last year.

It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Smith, who was quizzed on his impending move to LIV just moments after edging out Cam Young and Rory McIlroy to etch his name into the history books at the Home of Golf.

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He has fond memories celebrating with the Claret Jug from the famous Old Course Hotel all the way to a “ripping night” at his home club back in Brisbane, and welled up as he handed the silver chalice back to R&A chiefs.

For now at least.

“I thought I was going to do all right,” he told reporters at Hoylake, “but I was actually holding back from tears.

“A bit of a moment, I guess, that crept up on me. It wasn’t hard to hand it back. I wasn’t like not letting it go. But it was just a bit of a moment that I guess you don’t think about – and then all of a sudden it’s there.”

Smith, however, is determined to ensure golf’s oldest prize is back in his possession on this Wirral links come Sunday.

The world No.7 went wire-to-wire to win his first LIV Golf event of the season at the Centurion Club earlier this month and is feeling supremely confident about his game as he bids to defend his title.

“I think I’m actually a better golfer now than what I was last year,” he explained. “I think the stuff that I had to clean up is progressing. It’s still a little bit of a work in progress.

“I said this morning to someone that my 5-iron and up has always been a bit of a struggle for me, and that’s an area of the game that we’ve worked probably harder than we have on in the past.

“I feel like it’s right there. It just all has to come together. The first round I had at Centurion a couple of weeks ago was the first time where I felt like it had all come together.”

Smith was also bullish over the future of LIV following the PGA Tour’s bombshell framework agreement with the circuit’s investors, the Public Investment of Saudi Arabia.

“Yeah, absolutely I’m optimistic,” he said when asked about LIV’s future. “I think golf is in a great spot. There’s obviously a lot of things that are up in the air that no one really knows at the moment. I don’t even think the guys that are trying to sort it out really know what this outcome is going to be like.”

The 29-year-old issued his unwavering support for his fellow Aussie Greg Norman, the LIV chief executive who faces a precarious future of his own in golf’s uncertain new ecosystem.

“I’ve kind of become a bit of a friend of Greg’s, I guess, the last eight or nine months,” he said. “Personally I think he’s doing a great job for our Tour. He’s looking out for our best interesting. That’s all you can ask of a guy that’s running the show.”

Most of all, however, Smith is focused on becoming just the eighth player to retain the Claret Jug.

“I want that thing back so bad,” he declared.

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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