Sunday Herald Sun - - Golf - JIM TUCKER GOLD COAST

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.’’

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