Cameron Smith lived up to top billing with a birdie on the final hole on Friday that secured his place in the final group for Round 3 of the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland.
As Adam Scott brought the par-3 17th party hole to its feet with a raucous birdie from long range, Smith three-putted in front of some old school friends to drop to eight-under.
As the galleries enveloped the 18th fairway, Smith found the putting surface with his approach shot, coolly rolling home a birdie from eight feet with his customary perfect speed to book a spot in the last group of the day on Saturday.
He will start one shot shy of West Australian Jason Scrivener who followed up a 65 on Thursday with a bogey-free four-under 67 on day two and one clear of Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura and Victorian Cameron John.
John equalled with best score of the week with his six-under 65 yet the round of the day in the eyes of Queensland golf fans belonged to their very own Brisbane boy.
By 6.39am ticket sales had surpassed those who came to watch Adam Scott’s green jacket parade on the Gold Coast in 2013 and they continued to swell as the main attraction loomed at 11am.
He responded as true showmen do with birdies at both of his opening two holes and, despite a dropped shot at the par-3 eighth, had four birdies in the space of six holes to reach eight-under with a trademark up-and-down from the bunker at the short par-4 12th.
He moved to within one of the lead with a birdie at 15 before his bogey-birdie finish completed a six-under 65 and nine-under total.
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In an ominous warning to a field accustomed to The Open champion navigating his way across 18 greens in just 25 putts, Smith said it was in fact his driver that provided the impetus for his Friday afternoon surge.
“I felt as though I hit my driver as best as I’ve hit it for a very long time, so it was nice to do that. It gives me a little bit of confidence going into the weekend,” said a man who shouldn’t be short of any.
Such is Smith’s pulling power that Queensland and Australian rugby league legend Johnathan Thurston raced across town from a luncheon to watch him putt out on 18 at 3.32pm; a taste of XXXX from the Claret Jug making even the greatest giddy.
Day two brought all the action! 🤩
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Just as Smith unlocked the winning formula with consecutive Australian PGA wins on the Gold Coast in 2017 and 2018, Scrivener continues to search for the key to turn talent into Ws.
The Australian Junior champion four years before Smith in 2007, Scrivener knows a place in Saturday’s marquee group is another step towards sustained success at the highest level.
“You’ve got to play pretty flawless golf,” admitted Scrivener, who has seven top-three finishes on the DP World Tour without a win.
“The level of play out here is pretty high. It’s another opportunity this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”
While locals are lining up to laud their new king, international players also came to the fore on Friday.
World No.58 Adrian Meronk is just three strokes off the lead following a 67 in the second round, Kamuwara began and finished his round of 66 with three straight birdies while Spaniard Alejandro Canizares played his way into the top-10 at the halfway mark with a round of five-under 66.
Meronk began the year outside the top 150 in the world but a win at the Irish Open in July has given the Polish No.1 the confidence to take whatever the Aussies can throw at him.
“Of course, these are big names, but I’m trying not to look who’s ahead of me or behind me,” said Meronk.
“Just focus on my game and then on Sunday I’ll check the scores.”
It was a day of frustration for Scott who salvaged something in his round of one-over 72 with a birdie from 25 feet at 17 that reverberated throughout Royal Queensland.
“It sums up golf, I think. I didn’t sniff anything all day, nothing was good and I find my element in a bunch of drunk Queenslanders,” Scott joked.
Round 1 co-leader Min Woo Lee struggled to a two-over 73 to be tied for 17th, Danish star Rasmus Hojgaard missed the cut with a three-over 75 and an exhausted Ryan Fox now has a welcome weekend off following rounds of 72-74.
Jed Morgan’s title defence is also officially over, thanks largely to a double bogey at the par-4 16th.
The 36-hole cut moved out to one-over late on Friday, Cam Davis, Travis Smyth, Wade Ormsby, Matthew Griffin and amateur Harrison Crowe among the 16 players to receive a lifeline into the final two rounds.