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Smith's crisp putter a godsend at Valhalla to stay in the PGA Championship shuffle behind Xander, Tiger struggles

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16th May, 2024
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Cameron Smith is breathing easier after having his putter to thank for staying in the PGA Championship mix with a three-under-par start at Valhalla.

Smith’s 68 left the one-time world No.2 leading the Australian challenge after the morning wave, six shots behind record-setting American leader Xander Schauffele.

He lamented not going lower but, after battling an uncooperative putter and still tying for sixth at the Masters, Smith was pleased enough with his start to the year’s second major championship.

“I actually hit the ball quite well for probably the first 12 or 13 holes there,” Smith said.

“Kind of let go of it a little bit at the end, but everything felt really good and I managed to get a few good par saves and keep the momentum going for tomorrow.”

Some much needed R & R was the priority before what he expected to be a gruelling last three rounds at the challenging 7609-yard layout.

“It’s going be a long week,” Smith said.

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“I think you know that at the start of the week anyway – it’s a major week.  It’s always more demanding.

“So plenty of rest this afternoon, maybe hit a few balls, clean some stuff up and get a good sleep tonight.”

After starting on the 10th tee, Smith collected four birdies in his first 13 holes to be hunting Schauffele down.

But he drove into the native area on the par-4 fifth to record his only blemish of the round before scrambling home with four straight pars to sit in a share of ninth spot.

Smith’s LIV Golf teammate Lucas Herbert was the next best Australian after signing for a two-under 69.

“Everything was kind of decent but nothing was amazing,” Herbert said.

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“Got off to a poor start there but then caught that back up with four birdies.

“I think I holed out really well, holed some nice five footers, some sort of eight footers just to keep my momentum through the round, through the back nine and not drop any shots when I maybe struggled a bit.”

Adam Scott never got going in a one-over 72 that matched his playing partner Tiger Woods.

Scott failed to make a single birdie all morning but limited the damage with his lone bogey on the par-3 14th, his fifth hole of the day.

Jason Day, Min Woo Lee and Cam Davis all had afternoon starts for Thursday’s opening round.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods was left reflecting with disappointment on another major “grind” after his solid effort unravelled before the finish line and he carded a one-over-par 72 in the first round of the PGA Championship.

A bogey-bogey finish on Thursday left Woods 10 shots off the impressive early clubhouse lead of Schauffele.

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Woods began his round on the back nine at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, the site of the second of his four PGA Championship victories 24 years ago, making the turn in one-over 37.

He got back to even par with a birdie on the par-3 third hole, his 12th of the day, and then got under par for the first and only time with another birdie on the seventh.

He promptly gave the shot back with a three-putt on the par-3 eighth hole, while his par putt on the ninth slid right of the cup for another three-putt bogey.

“It was a grind today, certainly,” Woods told ESPN after the round. 

“I didn’t drive it particularly well all day. I struggled with the speed of the greens being a little quicker today. I smoked a few past the hole and three-whooped the last two holes.”

For the day, Woods hit nine of 14 fairways, 13 of 18 greens and converted all three sand save opportunities. He also made 93 feet worth of putts, but it was the final two holes that left a sour taste.

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“It wasn’t the way that I like to finish off rounds,” he said. “But a long way to go, and we’ll see what happens.”

Woods is competing for the first time since making the cut at the Masters last month. An 82-77 finish at Augusta National over that weekend left the 15-time major champion last among those who made the cut.

He’s hoping for a better outcome this week, but will first need to make the 36-hole cut. 

Woods, who missed the cut at Valhalla in 2014 while dealing with back issues and has battled back from serious knee and leg issues, said it helps that he has more time between rounds as he’ll play in the afternoon wave on Friday.

“It’s competition. And getting out there and competing, it’s a long grind out there,” he said.

“I just wish I would have been a little bit more consistent with my driving today and done a little bit better on the greens.”

© AAP

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