Thursday's golf: Cameron Smith leads RBC Heritage after career-low 62

Associated Press

Hilton Head Island, S.C. — Cameron Smith birdied the difficult 17th and 18th holes at Harbour Town to shoot a 9-under 62, his career low on the PGA Tour, and take a one-shot lead over Stewart Cink at the RBC Heritage on Thursday.

Cameron Smith, of Australia, watches his drive off the 10th tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Cink finished his 63 around lunchtime and no one appeared likely to beat that score in overcast, breezier afternoon conditions. Yet Smith played his best down the challenging stretch.

The Australian chipped in for birdie on the par-3 17th, then stuck his approach to the lighthouse finishing hole within 5 feet to take the lead. Smith surpassed his previous low of 63, accomplished three times on tour.

The 47-year-old Cink shot his lowest score in 75 career rounds at Harbour Town — not bad, considering he won here in 2000 and 2004.

Collin Morikawa, who will defend his PGA Championship title up the South Carolina coast next month, shot 65 along with Matt Wallace. Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel and Harold Varner III shot 66.

Smith is coming off a tie for 10th at the Masters, his second strong finish in five months at Augusta National. He was runner-up to Dustin Johnson last November.

“I feel like Augusta really gets my mind going, my creativity going,” he said.

Smith got a free drop after his second shot to the par-5 15th was near a temporary structure and played it to 3 feet for birdie. He missed the fairway and the green on the 16th before pitching to 6 feet to save par.

He saved his best for the last two holes, where the winds off Calibogue Sound regularly batter shots that appear on the mark.

Smith's tee shot on the par-3 17th landed in a bunker well below the putting surface. Smith figured it would be a difficult up-and-down until he saw a nice lie and more green to work with than he anticipated.

“The ball was sitting nice,” he said.

It sat in the cup after Smith's next stroke, which moved him into a tie with Cink at 8 under.

On the 18th, Smith smashed a 3-wood down the middle of the fairway and a 9-iron to near tap-in range, matching Davis Love III in 2002 and Peter Lonard in 2005 for the lowest opening round at Harbour Town.

“That was the icing on the cake,” he said.

Smith has never finished better than 15th in five previous appearances at the Heritage and missed the cut the last two years.

“Everything just came together,” he said. “It was a great day on the greens. I was hitting my irons really good. I had lots of good looks, and I just took advantage of them.”

Cink is enjoying a late-career renaissance. He won his first tournament in 11 years this past September, added five more top-20 finishes including a tie for 12th at the Masters and has pocketed more than $1.9 million this season — his most since 2009, when he won the British Open.

Cink started on No. 10 and drove into the water left for a bogey.

“It got my attention,” Cink said. “We were really good and clean the rest of the way. No more mistakes. I played really, really well the rest of the way.”

Johnson, the world's top-ranked player who has an endorsement deal with tournament sponsor RBC, opened with a 1-under 70. Will Zalatoris, the fast-rising 24-year-old who was runner-up to Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, played with Johnson and shot 68.

“Admittedly, I’m a little fried from last week,” Zalatoris said. “Coming out of the gates making a couple of birdies was nice. Kind of set the tone.”

The fourth-ranked Morikawa shot in the 60s for the fourth time in five rounds at Harbour Town and said it was one of his best rounds of the year, which already includes a victory.

It “puts a lot of confidence in my game,” he said.

Defending champion Webb Simpson, who set an event scoring record last year at 22 under, started with an even-par 71. He had shot in the 60s in 13 of his previous 16 rounds here.

Lydia Ko goes low again, shooting 63 in 2nd round at Lotte

Kapolei, Hawaii — Yuka Saso shot her second consecutive 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a two-shot lead over surging Lydia Ko after two rounds of the Lotte Championship.

Saso, who's playing on a sponsor's exemption, made seven birdies in her first 10 holes to catch Ko, who shot 63 earlier Thursday at Kapolei Golf Club. The 19-year-old from the Philippines then birdied the 16th and 17th holes to reach 16 under.

Not bad a player in her sixth LPGA Tour event who's uncomfortable with the Hawaii wind.

“I’m trying to get used to it,” Saso said. “The wind is still strong. Like I said yesterday, I don’t really like windy conditions. I’m happy I’m able to play good even if I don’t really like it.”

Saso, who turned pro in November 2019, plays primarily on the Japan LPGA Tour, where she has won twice, and is ranked 43rd in the world. Her best previous LPGA score was 69, and her highest finish was 13th at the U.S. Women's Open last December.

Ko, the former No. 1 and two-time major champion, hasn't won since 2018 but may be the hottest player on tour. She has played her last three rounds in 24 under.

Ko shot a final-round 62 last week at the year's first major, the ANA Inspiration, to finish runner-up to Patty Tavatanakit.

“Coming into this week, obviously coming off the best round in a really long time, I kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Ko said. “Obviously you feel like your game is moving in the right direction, but you don’t want to kind of slack off. Having a good round under my belt yesterday definitely helped. This is a golf course where especially when the wind is down it’s pretty gettable.”

Fourth-ranked Nelly Korda was five shots back along with So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim and Luna Sobron Galmes, who plays primarily on the Ladies European Tour. Sobron Galmes had 10 birdies while shooting 64.

U.S. Women's Open champion A Lim Kim was 10 under after a 64, joined by Ally Ewing and Brianna Do, who shot a career-low 66.

Do's caddie for the week is Tadd Fujikawa, the longtime Hawaii pro who made the cut at the PGA Tour's Sony Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 2007.

Fujikawa is home to play next week's Mid-Pacific Open and practices regularly at Kapolei. He's known Do since they were 12 years old.

“Most of the time,” Fujikawa said with a smile, “she listens pretty darn well.”

Seventeen-year-old Rose Zhang (68), the world’s top-ranked amateur, was 9 under.

Brooke Henderson, the 2018 and 2019 Lotte champion, was eight shots back after her second straight 68. She has hit all 36 greens in regulation.

Amy Yang had a hole-in-one on the 12th hole, the third ace on tour this year.

Canizares takes 1-stroke lead on Austrian Open opening day

Atzenbrugg, Austria — Alejandro Canizares defied chilly and windy conditions to shoot a 5-under 67 Thursday for a one-stroke lead after the opening day of the Austrian Open.

The Spaniard carded an eagle and four birdies to sit in front of a quartet of players, which included former No. 1 Martin Kaymer and John Catlin, a two-time winner in 2020.

“It was tough to keep focused, it was so cold,” Canizares said. “It’s tough to feel the hands and that’s very important.”

Canizares' only setback was a bogey on the par-four 12th.

“I putted very nicely, missed a short one when I made the bogey,” he said.

Apart from Kaymer and Catlin, Rikard Karlsberg and Jacques Kruyswijk also finished their opening round on 68.

The highest-ranked player in the field, No. 47 Thomas Detry, was tied for 10th after a 70.

The Austrian Open is the first European Tour event in 2021 on European soil. It replaces the Tenerife Open, which is taking the slot of the Portugal Masters on April 29-May 2. The event in Portugal cannot be staged due travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.