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Smith extends PGA Championship lead to three

Smith and caddie Sam Pinfold discuss club selection at the par 3 16th. (Photo: Bruce Young)
Defending champion Cameron Smith has not only retained his lead at the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines on the Gold Coast he has extended it to the point where he now takes a three-shot advantage over Marc Leishman into tomorrow’s final round.

Smith is looking to become the first player to win this event in consecutive years since Robert Allenby completed his second PGA Championship in 2001.

Smith was solid enough through his opening nine holes today and through 11 holes was two clear of Marc Leishman with another shot back to Jake McLeod and Harold Varner 111.

It would be over the next few holes however where Smith appeared to take a stranglehold on the event with birdies at the 12th, 13th and 16th to lead by four and although Leishman clawed one back at the 17th Smith takes a significant lead over Leishman into tomorrow’s finale.

Smith has a fine record at RACV Royal Pines not only winning this title in 2017 but finishing 4th in 2016 and is now an established and credentialed player on the PGA Tour and close to the top 30 in the world.

He is clearly the man to beat in Sunday's final round when he will again play with Leishman with whom he has now played five of his last seven rounds with given they were team-mates at last week's World Cup of Golf.

"Yeah, it was a good round. I didn't make many mistakes. When I was in trouble or kind of out of position, just again took center of the green and two‑putted, just played really smartly. The wind was kind of up and down all day, so that's what I had to do."

"I'm not really thinking about it, to be honest," added Smith when asked what joining the great names who have won this event twice would mean. "I'm just going to try and go out there tomorrow and do what I have been doing. The last couple of days has been probably some of the best golf I've ever played and feeling really confident. Just looking forward to tomorrow."

Leishman has some work to do tomorrow

Like Smith, Leishman was solid through the front nine but hardly spectacular but he too would make his move over the closing nine holes in an attempt to stay in tough with his playing partner.

Still chasing his first win on significance on Australian soil, Leishman knows he has a task to do so if it is to be tomorrow.

"Well, I mean, I think I need to get off to a pretty good start; not as in the first two or three holes, but the first nine," said Leishman. "I think I need to have a good front nine, at least make him think about it. 

"It's hard to win from the front, it's also hard to win from behind.  It's hard to win from anywhere. I've just got to do what I can do, worry about trying to shoot a good score and see if he plays well or not. I'm expecting him to, so I'm thinking I'm going to need a really good score.

"I would love to beat him when he's playing very well and I know he would like to beat me when I'm playing well. Yes, we're friends, but we both want to win badly.

"I know he wants to go back to back, I want to get my first win in Australia in the big tournaments, and we're both going to play hard. You know, we'll be mates at the end of the day."

Harold Varner 111 perhaps now too back for a 2nd PGA Championship title but he has not thrown in the towel just yet. 

Varner who has won and been runner-up in this event in the past could only manage a round of 71 today but he has not given up hope despite being seven shots adrift.

"I'm going to need a good one," said the American perhaps stating the obvious. "Cam's playing really well, I think. That's golf, just got to figure it out.  I still like my chances, though.  I think if I can just get it rolling and keep it going.  Yesterday I got it going. 

"Today was just average, just almost kept it together.  Had a little hiccup on 15, but didn't quit.  I was just hoping to make the one on the last, you know. But it's all right, I like where I'm at. Just got to keep a good attitude and do my job."

It does, on paper, look to be a two horse race given that not only is Smith three clear of Leishman, but that Leishman is four shots clear of the 3rd placed Varner 111 and the recently announced PGA Tour of Australasia's player of the year, Matthew Millar.

Tournament golf works in strange ways admittedly especially on championship Sundays but if those outside the top two are to have any chance they will not only need something special of their own but some help from those ahead.

I'm not sure either Smith or Leishman are in the mood to be that generous.


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