CAMERON Smith can join the greats of Australian golf as a back-to-back winner of the Australian PGA if he outduels close friend Marc Leishman in a final-day shootout today.
The Queensland favourite will have his home state fans roaring after yesterday’s unruffled 67 to Leishman’s 69 in the final pairing at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast.
Not since Robert Allenby’s double at Royal Queensland (2000-01) has a golfer retained the Joe Kirkwood Cup.
Greg Norman (1984-85), Randall Vines (1972-73), Bruce Devlin (1969-70), Colin Johnston (1963-64) Kel Nagle (1958-59) and Norman Von Nida (1950-51) are the only other men on that honour roll.
Smith said his rise to world No.33 and two top-five finishes in majors had happened far quicker than he ever imagined — and he’s in for another leap into the top 30 if he triumphs.
Smith (70-65-67) will take a three-shot lead over his World Cup teammate of a week ago into their final round pairing — but this is far from over.
Smith came from three shots behind to beat Jordan Zunic in a play-off a year ago, so the template is there for the Victorian to “UnLeish” — as all the tournament posters on the road to the course trumpet. Leishman is up for the fight. “I’m expecting Cam to have a really good score so hopefully I’ll be rolling in a few early to make it interesting,” he said.
“We’re both competitors … I know he wants to go back-toback and I want to win my first.
“It’s not in my nature to layup, and if that gap on the rest of the field stays it will also make it easier to attack.
“We’ll go hard and be mates at the end of the day.”
Smith performed superbly with five birdies, pure striking and great patience — he hasn’t hit a bogey in his past 32 holes as he reached 14-under.
“I’ve played some of my best golf of the year here mentally, and pulling off shots, plus you just have to hit it in the centre of the green sometimes when you get in some pretty bummy spots here,” Smith said after hitting 16 greens in regulation.
“You want to play against the best players in the world and Leish is one of those guys, so I’m looking forward to a good battle.”
There is more theatre to Smith’s game now he is a star.
When he rifled a shot to within a metre on the party hole 16th, the fans erupted in the marquee and on the deck chairs on the artificial beach.
Leishman (68-68-69) was ragged mid-round after taking eight holes for his first birdie.
Just when there was a hint of momentum, he was forced to chip out from behind a tree on the ninth and pitch out sideways from a bunker on the 11th, either side of another neat birdie on the 10th.
It really is a race in two, after Brisbane pro Jake McLeod’s challenge fizzled out.
McLeod grabbed a birdie on the opening hole to briefly join Smith in the lead but three bogeys to finish his 75 left him nine strokes off the pace.
Canberra’s Matt Millar shot a fine 67 to zoom to equal third, with American Harold Varner III, but they are seven shots behind at seven-under.
Varner said if he could get hot for 18 holes, he could give the defending champ a fright.
“I’m going to need a good one, Cam is playing really well,” he said after a one-under 71 yesterday.
“I still like my chances … if I can just get it rolling and keep it going.
“I just need to give myself 18 looks and I think something good will happen.’’