CAMERON Smith is on track to join some of the greats of Aussie golf as a back-to-back winner of the Australian PGA after yesterday outdueling close friend Marc Leishman.
The Queensland favourite will have his home-state fans roaring him to the trophy moment after shooting an unruffled 67 to Leishman’s 69 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.
Icon Greg Norman (1984-85), Randall Vines (1972-73), Kel Nagle (1958-59) and Norman Von Nida (1950-51) were among the few others to achieve it.
Smith (70-65-67) will take a three-shot lead over his World Cup partner into today’s final round when they will pair up Cameron Smith (AUS) 70 65 67. Marc Leishman (AUS) 68 68 69. Matthew Millar (AUS) 72 70 67, Harold Varner III (USA) 69 69 71.
Matt Jager (AUS) 66 71 73, Ben Eccles (AUS) 70 71 69, Braden Becker (AUS) 70 73 67.
Nick Flanagan (AUS) 69 73 69, Jake McLeod (AUS) 66 70 75, Dimitrios Papadatos (AUS) 67 70 74, Mathew Goggin (AUS) 68 72 71, Jae-Woong Eom (KOR) 67 74 70.
Aaron Cockerill (CAN) 72 69 71, David McKenzie (AUS) 73 69 70, Matt Stieger (AUS) 74 69 69, again in a dream final group for organisers.
Leishman had set the scene for the friendly shootout when he said pre-round, with Smith beside him, that: “I don’t think Andrew Johnston (ENG) 70 69 73, Troy Merritt (USA) 71 71 70, Rhein Gibson (AUS) 72 70 70, Nick Taylor (CAN) 74 68 70.
Sam Brazel (AUS) 70 71 72, Craig Ross (SCO) 71 72 70, Harrison Endycott (AUS) 70 72 71, Christopher Wood (AUS) 71 66 76, Ryan Fox (NZL) 69 75 69, Tom Murray (ENG) 69 73 71, Robert Allenby (AUS) 70 70 73, Peter Senior (AUS) 72 70 71, Daniel Fox (AUS) 73 69 71, Darren Beck (AUS) 73 71 69, Tim Stewart (AUS) 70 74 69, Daniel Gale (AUS) 70 74 69. we can play each other’s ball like last week [in World Cup foursomes].”
It really is a race in two because the “Jake the Giantkiller” script that looked poss- ible early fizzled out. Jake McLeod grabbed a birdie on the opening hole from close range to briefly join Smith in the lead but three costly bogeys to finish his 75 left him nine strokes off the pace by the end of the day.
Smith performed superbly with five birdies and not a bogey blemish to reach 14under on a day where tricky winds caused problems for all the other top contenders.
Leishman (68-68-69) was ragged mid-round just as he was last year when his 74 killed his frontrunning position and Smith caught up seven shots.
Yesterday was never as dramatic when he lost ground by two shots but Leishman took eight holes to grab 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.
He birdied all four of the par fives on Thursday and only one yesterday when momentum for a charge was always going to come on those holes.
All the while, Smith was as serene as you like. He was unhappy with his approach to the 13th green but he sunk the putt anyway to lead by three shots for the first time.
There is more theatre to Smith’s game now he is a genuine star and, when he rifled a shot to within a metre of the pin on the party hole 16th, the fans erupted in the marquee and on the deck chairs on the artificial beach.
He knocked that in for his fifth birdie of the day. hand to Le Fondre’s fierce spot kick, but could only tip it into the roof of the net.
Before the goal, Le Fondre, who has scored six goals in as many A-League games, had one shot blocked and another attempt from the Englishman had Mariners goalkeeper Ben Kennedy scrambling across his goal.
The home team had two chances in the first 25 seconds, with Connor Pain’s shot blocked by Grant and a followup attempt blocked by Sky Blues goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne.
Early on, the Sky Blues looked unsettled by the Mariners pace out wide and robust approach.
Victory 4 (Keisuke Honda 11m, Raul Baena 31m, Kosta Barbarouses 39m pen, Terry Antonis 83m) beat Western Sydney Wanderers 0 at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium in front of a crowd of 19,556.