Birdie blitz takes Smith to one-shot lead as Thomas three-peat skips a beat in Malaysia

The Mercury - - SPORT -

KUALA LUMPUR: Aus­tralian Cameron Smith blitzed the TPC Kuala Lumpur with a flaw­less eight-un­der-par 64 to take a one-stroke lead over a top-qual­ity field after the open­ing round of the $7 mil­lion CIMB Clas­sic yes­ter­day.

Smith, who won his first PGA ti­tle at the Zurich Clas­sic team event in May, picked up five shots on the way out and three more over the last five holes to stand a shot clear of Thai Poom Sak­sansin and Amer­i­cans Xan­der Schauf­fele and Kee­gan Bradley.

World No 4 Justin Thomas, who has won the tour­na­ment for the last two years with a com­bined score of 49-un­der, left him­self with some work to do in his quest for a “three­p­eat” after post­ing a two-un­der 70. Hideki Mat­suyama, who passed up the chance to de­fend his Ja­pan Open ti­tle to play in Malaysia this week, is a spot above Thomas in the world rank­ings and matched his score yes­ter­day after mix­ing four birdies with two bo­geys.

Schauf­fele, who edged Thomas by a stroke to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship in At­lanta last month, never looked back after open­ing with a birdie and then chip­ping-in from off the green for an­other at his third hole.

The 23-year-old Cal­i­for­nian, PGA Tour rookie of the year for 2017, picked up an­other five shots over the re­main­ing 15 holes and sug­gested his er­ror-free 65 had been as much the re­sult of avoid­ing the lush trop­i­cal rough as any­thing.

“It was bor­ing, which I guess is a good thing out here,” he said.

“I hit a lot of fair­ways, kind of made an easy day out of it. I tried to copy ev­ery­thing (Justin) did as I fig­ured he’s a good guy to im­i­tate out here.”

PGA Cham­pi­onship ti­tle-holder Thomas also picked up shots in two of his first three holes, but his round never really got go­ing de­spite the birdie-friendly con­di­tions.

Two bo­geys on his back nine left him six shots off the pace in a share of 23rd but the 24-year-old can­not be writ­ten off after eras­ing a four-shot deficit in the fi­nal round to re­tain his ti­tle last year.

Kevin Na nailed a 45-foot putt for a birdie at the 15th and then holed an iron for an ea­gle at the 16th but bo­geyed the last to drop to a share of fifth with fel­low Amer­i­cans Gary Wood­land and Pat Perez after card­ing a 66.

Davis Love III also threat­ened the grip of the twen­tysome­things at the top of the leader­board with five straight birdies from the sec­ond but the 53-year-old stum­bled on the back nine and fin­ished tied for eighth after a 67. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: EPA

Cameron Smith of Aus­tralia lines up his putt dur­ing the first round of the CIMB Clas­sic in Kuala Lumpur yes­ter­day.

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