DUBLIN, Ohio — Cameron Smith believes he’s playing the best golf of his life, and it shows. He leads the Memorial Championship at Workday, a tournament where the Australians don’t have a great history.
After a glorious afternoon at Muirfield Village on Friday, Smith drew the loudest cheers — another anomaly in the tournament’s inclement weather — when he was on the 12th, three Par hole, chipped from a downhill off the green for a 3-under. under the age of 69.
He maintained a one-shot lead over Danny McCarthy and KH Lee for the rest of the day by doing what Smith did best. He made a 15-foot par putt on the next hole and two 6-foot par putts for a bunker save.
“I guess I’m just happy with the way I stuck there,” Smith said. “I’m very happy with my short game performance. I feel like my ball is rolling well. Just need to sort out the longer stuff.”
As for his experience at the memorial?
In his previous six appearances, Smith has made the cut just twice, both times outside the top 60. His best round was a 71.
But this is a new Smith, winner of the Players Championship and Sentry Championship.
So it’s no surprise that even at Muirfield Village he shot 67-69 for an 8-under 136 and held the lead over the weekend.
“I think my game is in good shape. There’s no reason I shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m playing some of the best golf of my life and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable playing longer games. So just looking forward to what’s coming.”
Billy Horscher birdied every hole for a four-under 68 that put him in the group behind Torrey Pines champion Luke List, PGA Tour rookie Cameron Young and Davis Riley and Jonathan Vegas had 2s.
Rory McIlroy had a 69, three shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantley closed with two big par putts for a 3-under 141 with a 69.
The cut is 146, which is 2 over. Missing the weekend were Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English, both back from injury. DeChambeau (hand surgery) has not played since the Masters. English (hip surgery) has not played since the Sony Open in January.
McCarthy’s name was prominently mentioned even before the commemoration began, and he lived up to his fame. He made just 25 putts on Friday — he had 24 the day before — for a 3-under 69, leaving him one shot behind.
For those who haven’t pored over PGA Tour stats, it was a little surprising when McIlroy was asked earlier this week who he thought was the better putter in today’s game. He mentioned Jordan Spieth. Everyone knows him. He has been impressed by Sam Burns, who has won three times in the past eight months.
He mentioned McCarthy.
Referring to McIlroy’s comments earlier this week, McCarthy laughed: “I want to drive it like Rory.”
“Everyone has the best part of their game. Obviously, putting is part of me,” said McCarthy, who ranks fifth in key putting numbers this season. “The tee shot was the best part of his game. I didn’t slack off on the course, like putting is not the only thing I’m good at. Everyone held up my putter; yeah, I’m a good putter. But I need to do good things to make those putts.”
Meanwhile, McIlroy gained momentum after closing the Masters with a 64 and finishing second. He was four shots behind at the Wells Fargo Championship and three in the PGA Championship playoffs.
McIlroy swept into the mix with tall, true fairway metal at the Memorial, and by the end of his round, the eagle on the par-5 fifth came into the fresh breeze to 6 feet. His bogey on the par-3 eighth bunker slowed his momentum, but his 69 kept him in reasonable shape heading into the weekend.
Jon Rahm overcame a calf on the second hole — he birdied the next — to hit a 70 without his best iron game. He was 2 under at 142 and six shots behind. Ram wins in 2020. Last year, he led by six after three rounds until he tested positive for COVID-19, knocking him out of the final round.