The reigning Australian PGA champion finished in a flurry at Augusta National last Sunday with a 6-under 30 on the closing nine to post a T5 result and lead the Australian challenge.
While not quite as hot today, Smith still impressed with a 3-under 68 at the demanding Pete Dye layout to be four off the early pace being set by South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini.
The 24-year-old is one of seven Australians in the field this week but one of only two to record under par scores on day one, the other a sterling effort by fellow Queenslander John Senden.
Senden is playing his first PGA Tour event in almost a year after his son, Jacob, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in April 2017.
After months of treatment the family were given positive news about Jacob’s condition in January and Senden is now making a return to competitive golf.
He played a warm-up event on the secondary Web.com Tour two weeks ago but missed the cut; his bogey-free 69 today an extraordinary effort under the circumstances and leaves him sharing 20th in a large group that includes World Number One Dustin Johnson.
173 yards?April 12, 2018
Marc Leishman is next best of the Australians but will be less than pleased with how his day unfolded.
After making three birdies on the front nine the laid-back Victorian was on track to challenge for the lead when disaster struck on the inward half.
A bogey at 12 was followed by a card wrecking triple bogey at the next which saw him finish 1-over for the day and well down the leaderboard.
Rod Pampling finished at the same mark while Geoff Ogilvy’s 2018 struggles continued with a 2-over 73 meaning he has work to do to make the cut.
Aaron Baddeley birdied his final hole of the day to match Ogilvy's score while Greg Chalmers appears headed for a missed cut after posting 76 to be outside the top 100.
For leader Sabbatini, however, an opening 7-under effort came as a surprise after he injured his back during practise early in the week.
The 6-time Tour winner, whose last victory came in 2011, revealed he had considered pulling out because of the discomfort but teed up hopeful things would settle down.
“I was just happy to be able to play today,” he said after the opening round. “I was just trying to simplify everything and wasn’t trying to hit it hard, just put it in the fairway, find the greens.”
And things may be even better tomorrow after the South African said he felt his back ‘pop’ back into place on his final hole of the day, the 9th.
“I’ve been trying to get it to [pop] all week and it kind of released everything for the closure of the last hole,” he said.
Sabbatini holds a two-shot advantage over John Huh, Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar and Chesson Hadley.
Another four players are at 4-under with Smith one of nine players sharing 10th at 3-under.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM RICKIE FOWLER'S SWING:
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