08 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Smith's breathtaking start at Augusta

by PGA of Australia

Cam Smith Augusta r1 image
Cam Smith surveys a putt at No. 13 today on his way to a 68. Photo: Getty

By Tony Webeck

Queenslander Cameron Smith defied two double bogeys to sit outright second following the opening round of The Masters at Augusta National.

A last start winner at THE PLAYERS Championship, Smith had eight birdies in the space of 12 holes in his opening round yet dropped a total of four shots at the first and 18th holes to be the first player to post four-under 68.

Debutants Min Woo Lee (73) and Lucas Herbert (74) both made bright starts, 2013 champion Adam Scott opened with a 74 and Marc Leishman (73) and Cam Davis (75) are not far off the pace but it was Smith who had the Augusta National patrons in raptures until his late stumble.

Finding the right fairway bunker at the first led to a double bogey on his opening hole but when he chipped in for birdie from left of the par-4 fifth green Smith came to life.

He added further birdies at six, eight and nine and made four birdies in the space of five holes from the par-3 12th to reach six-under and push two strokes clear of the field, shots that vanished when he lost his tee shot right on 18 and had a rare three-putt on the closing hole.

He is just one stroke back of Korea’s Sungjae Im (67), two clear of former champions Dustin Johnson (69) and Danny Willett (69), world No.1 Scottie Scheffler and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and is three clear of Tiger Woods who shot 71 in his first competitive round since his horrific car accident last February.

Obviously disappointed by how he finished, Smith was content with his sixth score in the 60s in his past nine rounds at Augusta National.

“I probably got away with a couple of pars there and any round in the 60s around here is always nice,” Smith said.

“To be honest, those couple of double bogeys really didn’t have too bad a shots in them. It’s not like I was scratching it out of the trees. Got my second shot into a reasonable spot and just misjudged the wind on both wedges.

“I think it’ll motivate me the next few days. I feel like I played some really solid golf today, and to be four-under is a little bit disappointing. But given the condition of the golf course and the condition with the wind and stuff like that, if you had have given me four-under at the start of the day, I would have taken it.

“I know that if I’m playing well I can make a lot of birdies. There are 54 holes left out there and plenty of birdie opportunities. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three-time champion Gary Player declared the 28-year-old would “be in there with a good chance to win” prior to teeing off yet Smith made a less than ideal start.

After finding the sand with his first tee shot Smith could only advance the ball 14 yards with his second, his approach shot from 132 yards landing on the back fringe and releasing down the back edge.

His lofted pitch shot rolled out seven feet past the hole, the bogey attempt coming back lipping out on the left edge to drop two shots on his opening hole.

Smith’s exquisite short game came to the fore when he chipped in at five and he backed that up by almost acing the par-3 sixth, tapping in for birdie to get back to even par.

He made a putt of eight feet to get up-and-down from right of the par-5 eighth to get into red numbers for the first time and then hit a perfect tee shot to set up set up a fourth birdie in quick succession at the par-4 ninth.

A birdie from 11 feet at the 12th earned Smith a share of the lead at three-under with Korea’s Sungjae Im and he briefly held a three-stroke lead on the back of birdies at 14, 15 and 16.

There was a rare missed chance from just outside 12 feet at 17 to move to seven-under and he put himself under pressure by losing his tee shot into the pine straw right of the fairway at 18.

He could only punch out to 129 yards from the green and then left himself a par putt of 46 feet when his approach came up well short of the back-right pin position.

That putt careened nine feet past the hole, the return bogey try finishing on the right edge to leave a sour taste in an otherwise superb start to his championship.

Like Smith, Min Woo Lee made a less than ideal start to his first Masters with a dropped shot at the opening hole but the 23-year-old bounced back quickly.

Birdies at two, three and five briefly gave the West Australian a share of the lead at two-under par before a double bogey of his own at the par-3 sixth, coming up short with his tee shot and then having his pitch shot trickle back down the slope.

“That pin was absolutely brutal,” said Lee following his round of 73.

“My second chip, if I hit that a foot further, it would have gone down the hill, so I thought I made the bogey putt. It’s my first time playing the sixth hole in the tournament, and that’s going to happen.

“I learned a lot out there today. Obviously, the good stuff was really good, but I just need to tidy up a few things, and hopefully I play a bit better.

“But I’m really happy with the way I played today.”

Lucas Herbert took until just the second hole to get under par in his maiden Masters appearance but was also forced to concede some ground to Augusta National.

The 26-year-old missed a par putt from eight feet at the ninth and took double at 12 when his tee shot pitched into the upslope and rolled back into Rae’s Creek.

He got one of those shots back with a birdie at the par-5 13th but dropped another at 14 to finish his first round at The Masters at two-over.

Davis hit 10 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in his round of 75, unable to get a birdie putt to drop in a scorecard that featured 15 pars and bogeys at three, seven and 14.

Tied for fourth in 2013, birdies proved hard to come by too for Leishman, who dropped shots at the first and sixth holes but got one back at 15 to end the day at one-over.

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