AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Cameron Smith bookended his opening round at windy Augusta National on Thursday with double-bogeys but did more than enough in between to bolster his hopes of becoming only the second Australian to win the Masters.
Smith carded eight birdies over a sizzling 12-hole stretch en route to a four-under-par 68 that left him with a one-shot clubhouse lead.
For Smith, who has made the cut in all five of his Masters starts, including two top 10s and a runner-up finish in 2020 when he became the first player to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds, there was no panic after his opening double bogey.
“Just staying patient,” world number six Smith said of his mindset. “I love this place. I know it presents plenty of birdies. I just really had to get in a groove.”
Smith, whose buildup to the Masters included winning The Players Championship last month, began his charge at the par-four fifth where he chipped in from just beside the green.
He tapped in for birdie at the par-three sixth and flashed his stellar short game as he never had to putt from further than 11 feet for his remaining six birdies.
“My short game has definitely got me out of a lot of bad spots around here, but at the end of the day I think you just need to give yourself opportunities,” said Smith, who hit 14 of Augusta National’s 18 greens.
“You need to hit your irons close, and you need to be really good with the putter.”
On the closing hole, Smith sent his drive toward the trees along the right side and then punched it out before reaching the green with his third shot and three-putted from 46 feet.
The unflappable Smith, trying to join compatriot Adam Scott (2013) as a Masters champion, said he will not waste any time thinking about the double-bogeys.
“I’ve moved on already,” said Smith. “I’m done with it. I think the stuff in between was really nice, and yeah, just take the positives out of it.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)