04 Feb 2023 | Professional golf |

Smith soars, joins Sanchez on top at TPS Murray River

by Martin Blake

Sarah Jane Smith Cobram image
Sarah Jane Smith embraces amateur Imogen Jessen after her 63 on Saturday. Photo: Henry Peters

A resurgent Sarah Jane Smith cast off her relative veteran status to launch a bid for victory at the TPS Murray River event today in Cobram Barooga with a stunning, 8-under par 63. Smith, 38, has a chance to become the second consecutive female winner of the four-tournament series after Min A Yoon from South Korea won in Rosebud last weekend. The Sunshine Coast-based star rolled in a delightful left-to-right curling birdie putt at the 18th green in front of the fans in the marquees to take the clubhouse lead at 14-under par overall. A few minutes later second-round leader Matias Sanchez three-putted down the hill at the 18th, running his birdie putt past the hole and then missing from two metres coming back the other way to lose the outright lead that he had held all day at Cobram Barooga. That pair will enter Sunday’s final round tied at 14-under par with Western Australian Hayden Hopewell (65 today) just a shot back and hovering ominously. Beyond that there is a gap of two shots to Queenslander Shae Wools-Cobb at 11-under par but the leaderboard is cluttered, the scoring is low and it is possible for anyone to swoop with a score in the low 60s on Sunday. Smith and Sanchez represent a contrast in circumstance, the latter looking for his first win on tour at 24 and pressing hard, and the former wondering whether the touring life is for her after all these years – more than a decade -- on the LPGA Tour in the United States. But Smith’s back-nine 31, including an eagle from six metres at the par-5 15th, was a sign that her switch to Cameron Smith’s coach Grant Field late last year is having an impact. On Saturday she did not have the presence of her caddie and husband Duane on the bag; he was on ‘daddy day care’ duty with their three-year-old son Theo. But Smith ploughed through the challenge and she says that she believes she can get back to the LPGA despite having only limited status in 2023, meaning she will have to Monday qualify. “I didn’t know how I felt at the end of the season last year but I kind of knew it was time to make some changes,” she said. “I’d been working with Sean Foley for 12 years and we have an amazing friendship. I just needed something different.” Field, her new coach, is renowned for his short-game prowess as evidenced by Cameron Smith’s genius around the greens. “For the first time I’m starting to feel like it might not be over,’’ said Smith. “At the end of last year I wasn’t sure where I was going to go.

"At 38, I’m not really wanting to chase Epson Tour. It’s great out there, it’s improved a lot, but at my age, with Theo and we have no day care, it’s sort of not as enjoyable as it used to be. The goal is definitely get back to LPGA and off to a good start to the year and see how it’s working. It feels like there’s a little spark there.” Sanchez started with a three-shot buffer and he led the tournament by a whopping five shots after he picked up an eagle from the back fringe at the par-5 1st hole, then rolled in birdies from close range at the 6th and the 7th. But at the par-5 10th hole his 3-iron second shot careered through the back of the green and under a native tree, his awkward chip back ballooned off a ridge in a cart path, and he gave back a shot and his momentum at the same time. He would come home in two-over 38, with a three-putt to ponder overnight. Still, the Melburnian was philosophical afterwards. “If you told me on Monday I’d be tied for the lead on Sunday, I’d take it,” he said. As for Smith, she is excited. “I haven’t been in the last group for a while. It’s been a struggle, the last couple of years. It will be nice to put myself in that test that I haven’t been in and see how it ends.” New South Welshman Cameron Pollard at 10-over is leading the All Abilities by five shots, in good shape for back-to-back wins after he triumphed at Rosebud last week. In the TPS Junior Players Series, Victorian Max Fedmowski shot an even-par 71 to lead by a shot.

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