14 Jul 2022 | Professional golf |

Smith starts strong, Kennedy chases career best

by Dane Heverin

Cam Smith.

By Dane Heverin at St Andrews

A sublime five-under opening round of 67 has Cameron Smith in a tie for third, while Brad Kennedy’s action-packed 68 put him in the box seat to play the weekend of a major for the first time in his career after the first round of the 150th Open at St Andrews.

World number six Smith was a fan favourite at the Old Course with a strong Australian contingent cheering on his every shot and he gave them plenty of opportunities to roar with six birdies to sit three shots behind American leader Cameron Young.

Smith’s round was his best in the first round of a major this year - he shot 68 at both The Masters and the PGA Championship - and it came off the back of a precise putting display that included long bombs for birdies and exquisite lag putts to set up pars.

“It was probably some of the best lag putting I’ve ever done,” the 28-year-old said.

“My putt on the second managed to go in from a fair distance. That was pretty decent. It seemed like I had so many 80, 90, 100-footers out there today and did a good job of getting them down in two.”

His unflappable concentration was evident throughout the day as he crafted many ways to tackle the tucked away pins, but Smith did allow his mind to wander at certain times to absorb the enormity of the occasion.

“Standing on the first tee at St Andrews in an Open is something that I’ve only dreamt of doing as a kid, and for it all to come real and to have the support I did out there today was pretty cool,” he said.

Smith did put Australian fans in a panic at times as he clutched at his knee a few times, however he is channelling the spirit of his home state’s State of Origin heroes.

“I’m fine now, but it felt like I got a little bit of almost a hyperextension in the back of my knee,” he said.

“It lasted a couple of holes. I’m a Queensland man, get over that pretty quick. But just a little niggly for ten minutes and it went away. I'm fine now.”

Kennedy made eight birdies to put on quite the show for the packed galleries that followed his group which included South African legend Ernie Els.

“I didn’t expect that today,” Kennedy said. 

“We had a really nice breeze early on this morning and managed to hit some great iron shots into some tough pins. Just got a little out of sorts on eight and nine but I played great most of the day. Only hit one or two poor shots. Regrouped from a couple of bogeys on the back nine.

“I’ve been playing nicely in Japan. I had a few good weeks of prep back home and I really wanted to come out and see how far I could push myself in terms of what shots I wanted to hit and how to hit them. I’m really happy with the progress so far.”

The 48-year-old had the pleasure of making a birdie to huge applause at the 18th from the massive crowds gathered to watch Tiger Woods tee off on the first and he was thrilled to experience the atmosphere first-hand.

“The crowd is great. It’s just the best place to be,” Kennedy said. 

“I love links golf. I love the shot creation. The imagination needs to come out. I think the crowds bring out the best in you, as much as it might feel daunting. They have the respect and they do acknowledge good golf shots.”

Min Woo Lee hit the lead during his first round reaching four-under after 14 holes before slipping one shot further back in the closing stretch.

The West Australian teed off in the first group of the tournament at 6:35am local time and adjusting to the early alarm was not easy.

“It was such a weird story,” Lee said. “So I slept until about 8:30, and set my alarm for 4:30. I was watching Tiger in 2000 at St Andrews, winning here before I slept. 

“For some reason at 4:00 in the morning, I closed the laptop and it started playing when it was closed. So I don't know what was going on. It woke me up at 4:00. It was a good wake-up call, I guess.

“But it was like Tiger holing a putt or something. It was funny. Left at 4:45 and just had a quick breakfast and got going. I was a bit late for my warm-up. But you can't wake up earlier than 4:00.”

Lucas Herbert was only the other Australian to break par as he also made the most of the more advantageous morning conditions to shoot a two-under round of 70.

The Victorian played alongside six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and he had a bone to pick with the American from his younger days - read the full story here.

Adam Scott and Jason Scrivener both fought back from poor starts to finish even par and open the door for a strong round in the morning.

Anthony Quayle’s major debut got off to a tough start shooting two-over, and he was joined by Matt Griffin at that mark.

It was a difficult day for Marc Leishman (+4), Dimitrios Papadatos (+5) and Jed Morgan (+7) who all struggled in the afternoon and evening winds.

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