Cameron Smith’s hopes of becoming Australia’s first FedEx Cup champion remain alive thanks in no small part to a stunning shot from the fairway bunker at the par-5 sixth.
Smith opened the PGA TOUR’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta with a round of three-under 67, taking him to seven-under in the adjusted FedEx Cup leaderboard.
A day after announcing that he will be back home this summer to play both the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship and ISPS HANDA Australian Open, Smith is now eight shots back of world No.1 Scottie Scheffler (65) in a tie for fifth but within range to mount a challenge over the closing three rounds.
After scrambling a par at the first Smith dropped a shot at the par-3 second when he missed the green right, relying on his stellar short game to save par at both four and five.
The driver that had caused him trouble at both one and five again got him into trouble at six, the recovery nothing short of spectacular.
Standing in the fairway bunker 231 yards from the hole, Smith blistered an approach shot to just inside nine feet, converting the eagle opportunity to move into red numbers.
Smith again missed the green at the par-3 11th and was unable to make par, rebounding with back-to-back birdies from 14 feet and 24 feet at 12 and 13.
After a dropped shot at 16 the 29-year-old again responded in a positive fashion, making birdie at his final two holes to keep Scheffler within reach.
Starting the week in 29th position, Adam Scott improved his standing, moving up to a tie for 22nd with a round of two-under 68.
As Smith and Scott close out their PGA TOUR seasons, Aaron Baddeley has taken an important step to ensure he retains his PGA TOUR status at the second event of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
The 41-year-old had just one bogey in his round of six-under 65 to be tied for second through one round of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Ohio.
There are still 23 PGA TOUR cards to be distributed and Baddeley called upon the greatest strength of his game throughout his career to put himself in the mix.
Baddeley got a putting tip from renowned putting coach John Graham – whose students include Justin Thomas – at the TOUR’s Regular Season-ending Wyndham Championship earlier this month. Graham looked at some old footage of Baddeley on the greens and noticed that in his putting heyday, the head “didn’t move one bit”. Lately, Baddeley had been “peeking a little bit” on the greens.
With a focus on a quiet head, Baddeley recorded seven birdies Thursday as he aims to better his TOUR status into the coming season.
“That’s what made it frustrating, because, like, ‘Wait, I’m a great putter. I know I’m a great putter,’” Baddeley said. “It’s like I lost it; it’s there somewhere. I’ve just got to find it. Today was a nice day. Overall, I putted well. The putts that I missed, I feel like I hit good putts; they just didn’t go in.
“I feel like my putting is right there, ready to take off.”
The four-time TOUR winner made 13 starts on TOUR this season, finishing No.196 on the FedEx Cup, in addition to nine Korn Ferry Tour starts. His best finish was a T13 at the Korn Ferry Tour’s NV5 Invitational presented by Old National Bank in May.
“If you play well, you’ll be fine,” said Baddeley of chasing a spot in The Finals 25. “You get rewarded for good play.”
It was a tough day for the four other Aussies in the field, Harrison Endycott (74), Anthony Quayle (74), Jason Scrivener (75) and Min Woo Lee (76) all well down the leaderboard through Round 1.
Minjee Lee’s pursuit of the world No.1 ranking will have to wait another week, the West Australian withdrawing after just nine holes of the CP Women’s Open in Canada.
A top-three finish could have been enough for Lee to usurp Jin Young Ko as the best player in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking but Lee walked from the course after playing the front nine in two-over.
Hannah Green and Sarah Kemp were the best of the Aussies on day one, both posting rounds of three-under 68 to be tied for 30th.