Friday's golf: Cameron Smith ignores history and takes lead at Memorial

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press

Dublin, Ohio — Cameron Smith believes he is playing the best golf of his life, and it shows. He is in the lead at Memorial, a tournament where the Australian doesn't have a great history.

Smith elicited one of the loudest cheers of a glorious afternoon Friday at Muirfield Village — another anomaly for this weather-plagued tournament — when he holed out with a downhill chip from beyond the green on the par-3 12th that carried him to a 3-under 69.

He kept his one-shot lead over Denny McCarthy and K.H. Lee the rest of the day by doing what Smith does best. He holed a 15-foot putt for par on the next hole and twice made 6-foot par putts for bunker saves down the stretch.

“I think I'm just happy with the way I stuck in there,” Smith said. “Really happy with where my short game's at. I feel like I'm rolling the ball really good. Just need to sort out that longer stuff.”

As for his history at the Memorial?

In six previous appearance, Smith only made the cut twice and both times and finished outside the top 60. His best round was a 71.

But this is a new Smith, the winner of The Players Championship and the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the No. 3 player in the world ranking.

So his rounds of 67-69 to reach 8-under 136 and be in the lead going into the weekend is hardly a surprise, even at Muirfield Village.

Billy Horschel putted for birdie on every hole and made four of them for a 68 that left him in the group two shots behind with Torrey Pines winner Luke List, PGA Tour rookies Cameron Young and Davis Riley, and Jhonattan Vegas.

Rory McIlroy had a 69 and was three shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantlay closed with two big par putts for a 69 and was at 3-under 141.

The cut was at 2-over 146. Among those missing out on the weekend were Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English, both returning from injuries. DeChambeau (hand surgery) had not played since the Masters. English (hip surgery) had not played since the Sony Open in January.

Also missing the cut were Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Jed Morgan of Australia and U.S. Amateur champion James Piot, giving them two extra days to pack for London and the first Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational next week that puts PGA Tour membership at risk, at least for Swafford and Jones.

McCarthy's name was mentioned prominently even before the Memorial began, and then he lived up to the praise. He took only 25 putts Friday — he only had 24 putts the day before — for a 3-under 69 that put him one shot behind.

McIlroy surged into the mix at the Memorial with a fairway metal that was high and true and into a freshening breeze to 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 fifth toward the end of his round. His momentum was slowed by a bogey from the bunker on the par-3 eighth, but his 69 left him in reasonable shape going into the weekend.

Jon Rahm overcame a shank on the second hole — he made birdie on the next one — to scratch out a 70 without his best iron game. He was at 2-under 142, six shots behind. Rahm won in 2020. He was six shots ahead after three rounds last year until his positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the final round.

LPGA Tour

Southern Pines, N.C. — Jin Young Ko never seems to stress. Nor does she let up.

The world’s No. 1 player vaulted into contention for a third major championship Friday, playing the final five holes in 3 under to pull within three shots of second-round Minjee Lee and Mina Harigae at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Harigae and Lee were at 9-under 133 after 36 holes at Pine Needles. Lee shot a 5-under 66, and Harigae had a 69.

Three-time major champion Anna Nordqvist and Hye-Jin Choi, who shot a 64 to come within shot of matching the lowest round in the event’s 77-year history, were 7 under. Nordqvist had a 68.

Ko was tied for fifth at 6 under with Swedish amateur Ingrid Lindblad. Ko shot 67, and Lindblad followed up her event amateur-record 65 on Thursday with a 71.

Ko hasn't won a major since 2019, but won five LPGA Tour events last year and already has a win this year.

Ko made her move with a birdie on No. 14, then pounded a 3-wood into the green on the par-5 15th and made a 65-foot eagle putt.

Nelly Korda, the No. 2 player in the world, was six shots off the pace after a 69. She's playing in her first tournament since undergoing surgery on her left arm to fix a blood clot.

It looked for a while like Harigae might maintain sole possession of the lead for a second straight day.

But Lee, ranked No. 4 in the world, surged into a tie in the afternoon after shooting 31 on the front nine. Lee has already won two LPGA events this year.

Lexi Thompson struggled down the stretch just as she did in the final round last year's U.S. Open when she surrendered a five-shot lead after a back-nine meltdown and lost.

But she managed to close with a birdie for a 69 that left her 3 under.

Danielle Kang, the No. 12 player in the world, barely made the cut at 3 over after revealing she has a tumor on her spine.

Yuka Saso was among those who didn't make the cut, marking the second straight year the defending champion has failed advance past to the weekend. She finished at 9 over.

Among the other notables who won't be playing on the weekend include 10-time major champion Annika Sorenstam and 2014 champion Michelle Wie West.

Sorenstam, who earned her way into the event by winning last year's U.S. Women's Senior Open, spent a good portion of the back nine in the sand and the 51-year-old seemed to tire as the round dragged on. She shot 81.

Wie West, playing in the second-to-last career tournament, of the year, missed the cut by two strokes, shooting 73-74. Wie West plans to play in the 2023 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach before retiring.

PGA Champions Tour

Des Moines, Iowa — Kirk Triplett shot a 9-under 63 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly, Ken Tanigawa and Brett Quigley after the first round of the PGA Tour Champions' Principal Charity Classic.

The 60-year-old Triplett had nine birdies in the bogey-free round, closing with pars on the par-5 eighth and par-3 ninth at Wakonda Club. A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, he won the last of his eight senior titles in 2019.

Kelly eagled the par-5 13th and finished with a birdie on the par-4 ninth.

Steve Stricker closed with a birdie for a 69 a week after having to withdraw from the Senior PGA Championship because of a positive COVID-19 test result. He won the senior major in Alabama in his previous start.

Tanigawa eagled the eighth on his back nine.

Bernhard Langer was at 66 with Stuart Appleby. The 64-year-old Langer played the back nine in 6-under 30.

Steven Alker, the Senior PGA winner Sunday in Michigan, was at 67 with Fred Couples, Alex Cejka and Rod Pampling. The 50-year-old Alker already has more than $1.8 million in earnings this year and has won four of his last 11 tournaments dating to the postseason a year ago.

Defending champion Stephen Ames opened with a 71.