DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Cameron Smith thinks he’s playing the best golf of his life, and it shows. He leads at Memorial, a tournament where the Australian doesn’t have much of a history.
Smith prompted one of the loudest cheers of a glorious Friday afternoon at Muirfield Village – another anomaly for this weather-beaten tournament – when he hollowed out with a downhill chip from beyond the green on the par-3 12th that put him at a 3-under-69.
He maintained his one-shot lead over Denny McCarthy and KH Lee for the rest of the day by doing what Smith does best. He potted a 15-foot putt for par on the next hole and made two 6-foot par putts for bunker saves on the course.
“I think I’m just happy with how I persevered,” Smith said. “I’m really happy with where my short game is. I feel like I’m rolling the ball really well. I just have to sort out the longer stuff.”
As for his story at the memorial?
In six previous appearances, Smith made the cut only twice, and both times, finishing outside the top 60. His best round was a 71.
But this is a new Smith, the winner of The Players Championship and the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the No. 3 player in the world.
So his laps of 67-69 to make 8 under 136 and lead into the weekend are no surprise even in Muirfield Village.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, BC hit a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th hole to finish the round tied 39th on a par.
“I think my game is in a good place. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be me,” he said. “I’m playing one of the best golf games of my life and I feel like I’m getting more consistent with the longer stuff. So I’m just looking forward to whatever’s to come.”
Billy Horschel putted on each hole for birdies and made four of them for a 68 that left him two shots behind Torrey Pines winner Luke List, PGA Tour rookies Cameron Young and Davis Riley, and Jhonattan Vegas in the group.
Rory McIlroy had a 69 and was three shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantlay closed with two big par putts for a 69 and was 3-under 141.
The cut was 2 to 146. Among those missing over the weekend were Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English, both returning from injuries. DeChambeau (Hand Surgery) hadn’t played since the Masters. English (hip surgery) had not played since the Sony Open in January.
Also missing the cut were Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Jed Morgan of Australia and US amateur champion James Piot, giving them two extra days to pack for London and next week’s first Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf Invitational, which includes membership at threatened by the PGA Tour. at least for Swafford and Jones.
McCarthy’s name was featured prominently before the memorial began, and then he lived up to the praise. He took just 25 putts on Friday — he had just 24 putts the day before — for a 3-under-69 that put him back a shot.
For those not poring over the litany of available PGA Tour stats, it came as a bit of a surprise when McIlroy was asked earlier in the week who he thought were the better putters in today’s game. He mentioned Jordan Spieth. Everybody knows him. He was impressed by Sam Burns, a three-time winner in the last eight months.
And he mentioned McCarthy.
Upon learning of McIlroy’s comments earlier in the week, McCarthy smiled and said, “I’d love to ride it like Rory.”
“Everyone has the best part of their game. Obviously putting is a part of me,” said McCarthy, who ranks No. 5 in the top putting statistic for the season. “Driving the ball is the best part of his game. I’m not a slacker on the course because putting isn’t the only thing I’m good at. Everyone talks to my putter; Yes, I’m a good putter. But I have to do good things to get those putts.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, has picked up some momentum since completing his 64th Masters for a second place finish. He finished four shots down in the Wells Fargo Championship and three shots from a playoff at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy charged into the mix at the Memorial with fairway metal that was high and true and a refreshing breeze at 6 feet for Eagle on the fifth par 5 near the end of his round. His swing was slowed by a bogey from the bunker on the par 3, but his 69 left him in decent shape for the weekend.
Jon Rahm overcame a shank on the second hole – the next he birdied – to scratch a 70 without his best iron play. He was at 2-under 142, six shots behind. Rahm won 2020. After three rounds last year, he was six shots clear until his positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the finals.
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