Cameron Smith came to The Lakes this week after his year overseas and felt like things were not so different. Heavy watering of the course and then some rain today left it soft, and open to attack.
While strong winds are expected at times during the 2018 #AusOpenGolf starting tomorrow morning, Smith was not feeling intimidated in the slightest. Unless it blows, the course will surely yield low scores.
“It's a little bit soft at the moment, but there's obviously some reasons behind that,’’ said the Queenslander. “I think it's going to get really windy tomorrow and Saturday, so they're obviously trying to hold on a little bit. I would like to see it a little bit firmer, but it is what it is.”
At 25, Smith is the 33rd ranked player in the world and the highest Australian in the pecking order this week. It is a unique experience for him; generally he has sat in the shade of the likes of Jason Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman among his compatriots. This time with that trio not appearing, he is the man.
He has contended at the past two Opens, at Royal Sydney in 2016 and at The Australian last year, losing a playoff to Jordan Spieth in the earlier of that pair, and he is hungry in more ways than one.
Back at home where he loves the pies – “the thing I miss the most, for sure” – he has come in on the back of hard work and less downtime. “Typically I kind of slack off after those Asian events and then come down here fresh off a couple weeks off. I've been working pretty hard the last couple weeks back in, Jacksonville and yeah, I really want to get this one. That's kind of been the determination, I guess, to the hard work.”
Smith was the Australian amateur champion in 2013 but even he is surprised at how quickly he has moved through to the top echelon of golf, securing his first US Tour win with Jonas Blixt at the pairs event, the Zurich Classic in Louisiana last year.
“Yes, if you would have told me, I would have been dreaming, to be honest,’’ he said.
Among those who will push him hard this week are Matt Kuchar, the American who arrived at The Lakes late having missed his connecting flight from Los Angeles owing to commitments in Mexico, where he won the Mayakoba tournament on the US Tour last Sunday.
It was his first US Tour win for more than four years and one of the sweetest. “There are times when you think ‘will I ever do it again’?” he said.
Kuchar is 40 and has the perspective of the veteran, although he still aims to get better every year.
“I think I understand the ups and downs and the cycle of the game of golf pretty well. I certainly hope to play well, expect to play well but don’t feel any extra pressure to play well.’’
Another player expected to show up is defending champion Cameron Davis, the local hero who won with a blistering final round at The Australian last year. Since then, he has won on the Web.com Tour and secured his PGA Tour card for 2018-19. Davis, 23, is a sensational talent.
“I've improved a lot of things since last year,’’ he said. “I think my bad golf's not as bad anymore and my good golf is there a little bit more often. I've really just played well at the right time at different points throughout the year which has kept me moving forward.’’
The young man from Roseville and Avondale golf clubs on the north shore had a big decision to make in coming to The Lakes; arguably he should have stayed in the United States and worked to secure his playing rights for next season. Ultimately, he wanted to defend his title at home.
“Every week (on tour) you miss, other people pass you and you're just a little bit further away from, you know you're not forced to have to do well, but you're just one tournament further away from being where you need to be,’’ he said. “So missing any event is a relatively big deal, but for this tournament, it didn't seem like it was too difficult a decision. To come back and defend a tournament like this is especially important. You know, it wasn't too tough for me.’’
The first group of the 156 players teeing it up will begin their journey at The Lakes at 6.45am (AEDT) tomorrow morning.
Smith goes out with Anirban Lahiri of India and American Brandt Snedeker at 7.05am in one of the best groups of the day. Kuchar, Davis and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer are among the best groups of the afternoon wave, teeing off at 12.10pm.
The top three players in the Open otherwise not exempt will earn a spot in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
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