Hong Kong: Cameron Smith produced an opening round 7-under par 63 in the Hong Kong Open, living up to his aim of channeling the frustration of a disappointing LIV Golf Jeddah last month.
Smith is hoping for a strong finish to the season to set himself up for 2024.
The Australian star, who is due to tie the knot next month, was leading LIV Golf’s individual standings when he reached Jeddah. However, after shooting rounds of 70, 68, and 66 he dropped out of the points and down to 25th place at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club and allowed his closest challenger, Talor Gooch of RangeGoats, to vault past him with a runner-up place.
The normally staid Smith was visibly upset on a couple of occasions in Jeddah, which was out of character for the 30-year-old from Brisbane.
“It was something that I really wanted to do. I feel from the third or fourth week onwards, I was really on my game. And it’s frustrating to feel like that and not get it done in the end,” the 150th Open champion said.
“You have to take it as a good thing. It will drive me for next year. I’ve Hong Kong and a couple more events in Australia after this. I want to win, so why not start this week?
“It will be a busy off season because I want to improve, and I want to make the game better so I can make sure I close it when I have chance,” he added.
Smith did not wait long to show his intent.
In Thursday’s opening round of the $2 million International Series at the picturesque Hong Kong Golf Club, he fired eight birdies to snatch a share of the lead with fellow LIV Golf player Eugenio Chacarra-Lopez of Spain.
Afterwards Smith said: “I played really solid — I was able to put in some good work the first few days while I was here. It worked out today.
“The course is very refreshing. It’s nice not having to slug your driver on every hole and actually having to figure some stuff out. It was tricky out there today, a little gusty. It’s a cool track, one of my favorites, and hopefully we get no rain.
“I was talking to Pat (Reed), and we agreed there were not many golf courses in the world where we still have to hit a 7-iron off the tee on a par-4 hole. This is one.”
Chacarra-Lopez, who did not have a good weekend finish despite leading in China last week, played in the morning groups and submitted a bogey-free round with seven birdies.
The Spaniard, who won LIV Golf Bangkok last year, said: “Hard not to be happy with a round of 7-under. This is a course I like a lot. It reminds me of the course I grew up on. It’s tricky, lined with trees, and you need to hit the fairways.”
Three Saudi players are in the field this week, with Othman Almulla the best placed at 2-over par despite playing with an uncomfortable allergy. Faisal Salhab was at 74, while Saud Al-Sharif began with a 77.