08 Jul 2023 | Professional golf |
Smith solves ‘puzzle’ as Open defence looms
by Tony Webeck
Open champion Cameron Smith may have solved what he calls the “missing piece of the puzzle” just two weeks out from his defence of the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool.
Smith and good friend and fellow Australian Marc Leishman sit 1-2 at the top of the leaderboard after Round 1 of the LIV Golf London event at Centurion Club, Smith one clear after a round of 8-under 63.
Leishman’s 7-under 64 and Matt Jones’ 2-over 73 saw the all-Aussie Ripper GC team establish a three-stroke lead in the teams event, their captain seeming to peak at the perfect time.
No player has won consecutive Open championships since Irishman Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008) but Smith will travel to Hoylake in a very positive frame of mind.
Top 10 at both the US PGA Championship and US Open, Smith said the key to his bogey-free round on Friday was the way he and long-time caddie Sam Pinfold communicated throughout the round.
“Sam and I worked really nice today, which is probably the first time in a long time where we really stuck it out and actually talked through some shots,” Smith said.
“Probably something that had kind of been a missing piece to the puzzle. It was nice to figure that stuff out before another big tournament coming up.”
Buoyed by his own performance that included a run of six birdies in seven holes early in his round, Leishman has no doubt that a strong week this week will put Smith in an ideal position to launch a strong title defence in two weeks’ time.
“Any tournament that Cam enters, he’s certainly a strong contender,” said Leishman, who lost in a playoff at the 2015 Open Championship.
“Playing this week is going to help him. The wind is very different, I feel like, in England and Scotland. It’s a lot heavier. Getting used to that is pretty important.”
Like Leishman, Smith accumulated the majority of his birdies on the back nine.
One-under through eight holes after a birdie at the par-3 second, the 29-year-old peeled off six birdies in his next seven holes, his eighth and final of the round coming at the par-3 17th.
Smith and Leishman will play together along with Belgian Thomas Pieters in the lead group in Round 2.
David Micheluzzi (E, T40) was the sole Australian to make the cut at the Made in Himmerland tournament on the DP World Tour, Harrison Endycott and Aaron Baddeley are both 5-under and tied for 45th at the John Deere Classic on the PGA TOUR and Jason Norris is four off the lead at the Swiss Seniors Open on the Legends Tour in Europe.
Photo: Tom Dulat/Getty Images
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