After last week's pressure cooker at Masters, Australian shoots bogey-free 62 at Harbour Town Golf Links to open early lead
Like so many of his colleagues on the PGA Tour, Cameron Smith let out a big sigh of relief upon leaving Augusta, Ga., and arriving on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
What the Masters is to anxiety, the RBC Heritage is to relaxation.
Smith shot a bogey-free – and stress-free, to hear him tell it – 9-under 62 on Thursday at Harbour Town Golf Links to hold a one-stroke lead after the first round of the RBC Heritage (scores).
“Augusta, especially how I played last week, was very stressful,” said Smith, who tied for 10th at the Masters, just five months after he was runner-up in the November edition to Dustin Johnson’s record-setting score. “I mean, you're almost worried about every shot out there, it seems like. After Sunday, I drove back down to Jacksonville. I had a couple days at home. I drove up here Tuesday lunchtime, just played nine holes in the pro-am. I felt like my game was in a really good spot, so I didn't feel like I needed to come here and really grind out a couple of good practice days. I felt like everything was in a good spot, and I think it paid off those couple days at home.”
Playing in the afternoon wave, Smith birdied four of his first six holes, then finished with a flurry, making birdies on three of his final four. The highlight: a hole-out from an awkward bunker lie behind the par-3 17th green.
“This place really gets my creativity going into the greens,” he said. “There's a couple of holes out there where you really have to shape it into the greens around trees, and if you're in a bad spot off the tee, you just have to know where to miss it, especially with how firm the greens are out there.”
Smith hit 13 of 18 fairways and 13 of 18 greens, but he made up with any miscues with a 4.598 strokes-gained-putting statistic.
“I just played really solidly,” he said. “I hit lots of irons close, and when I missed one, I missed it in the right spots. Not a lot of stress out there, which is nice.”
At No. 26 in the world ranking, Smith, 27, of Australia, is looking for his third victory on the PGA Tour. He is a two-time winner of the Australian PGA.
American Stewart Cink recovered from a bogey on the first hole to make seven birdies and an eagle the rest of the way and shoot 8-under 63 to trail Smith by one, in solo second.
“It really was a very smooth round once I got past the obstacle of the first hole,” said Cink, who started on the par-4 10th. “[Caddie/son] Reagan was just joking with me that the only shot I didn't consult with him on the whole day was the tee shot on 10, and I promptly cranked it straight into the lake. It was probably one of the worst opening drives I ever hit in my life. You'd think that's a bad way to start, but in a way it's a wake-up call. After playing in the Masters and being super-focused and intense, to come here and be lazy on the first shot was kind of like a slap in the face and it got my attention.”
Cink, 47, a two-time winner at Hilton Head, won the Safeway Open in the fall for his seventh PGA Tour victory and his first since the 2009 British Open. With a tie for 12th last week at the Masters, Cink topped $40 million in career money, the 22nd player to pass that milestone on the PGA Tour’s career-earnings list.
England’s Matt Wallace and American Collin Morikawa, who will return to South Carolina next month as the defending champion at the PGA when it visits Kiawah Island, shared third place at 65.
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