Smith overshadowed by former champ, local LIV star burned by rules blunder as schoolgirl stuns Australian Open


A week after being reduced to tears by missing the cut at the Australian PGA Championship, Open champion Cameron Smith has a fight on his hands to make the weekend at the Australian Open.

As former champion Cam Davis (-9) and last weekend’s PGA winner Min Woo Lee (-5) lit up the opening morning at the Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, LIV star Smith battled his way to a one-under 70 on Thursday after twice finding the water trap early.

He wasn’t the only LIV member to struggle early, with two-time Australian Open winner Matt Jones caught up in some early controversy at The Australian Golf Club.

With preferred lies in play across the opening two rounds of the dual-gender event being played across the two layouts following Wednesday’s storms, the 43-year-old copped a two-stroke penalty on the opening hole after incorrectly moving his ball.

After thinking his second shot had landed on the fairway, Jones took up the option of the preferred lies. The issue was it hadn’t.

It meant Jones, who is looking to equal Jack Nicklaus by winning his third Australian Open after taking out the tournament in 2015 and 2019, started his round with a double bogey.

Adam Scott had an up and down opening round at The Australian Open while two-time champion Matt Jones (R) made a strong recovery after copping a two-stroke penalty on the opening hole at the The Australian Golf Course on November 30, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Jones clawed his way back to finish two-under, while playing partner and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott finished even-par after bogeying the final hole.

Davis, the world number 43, took full advantage of perfect early morning conditions to burst out of the blocks at The Lakes.

The 2017 champion started with four birdies and an eagle in his opening nine holes propelling him to six-under. He moved to nine-under through 17 before parring the final hole.

His dazzling score equalled John Senden’s course record, but it wasn’t recognised because of the decision by organisers to allow preferred lies.

“I know this place relatively well, so I had plenty of good memories in the bank to go out and play the course with,” he said.

“But that’s by far the cleanest round I’ve ever had around here and without the wind, it was awesome to make the most of the conditions.

“I can go back to the hotel and have a smile on my face and think to myself job well done.”

Cameron Davis shot a nine-under on day one of The Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club on November 30, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Four shots behind Davis is Lee, who is looking to complete the prestigious Australian PGA Championship and Open double.

The 25-year-old picked up his first birdie of the day on the 13th. He followed up with another on 14, added a third on 18 before saving par with a sumptuous sand shot to within a few centimetres.

Paired with Lee, Smith overcame some front-nine wobbles to stay in the tournament after his shocker at Royal Queensland.

The 2022 British Open champion hit two balls in the water – one right with his approach on the 11th and one left off the tee on the 14th – but scrambled for pars on both occasions.

But Smith couldn’t get up and down from the bunker on the par-3 18th amid concerns the world No.20 and highest-ranked player in the 156-strong field could be headed for another premature departure.

Smith steadied though on his back nine to at least finish under par.

“I think there’s definitely something to build on,” Smith said.

“I didn’t feel as anxious and uncomfortable, I guess. There was a couple of really tough shots out there, particularly tee shots. It feels good just to commit. I hit a couple in the water but it was nice just to feel that commitment and actually try to hit the right shot. It felt better.”

Min Woo Lee (R) with Cameron Smith on the 13th hole during the ISPS HANDA Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club on November 30, 2023 in Sydney. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, schoolgirl amateur Rachel Lee shocked a star-studded women’s field by shooting a stunning six-under at The Lakes.

Despite nearly missing her tee time, the 16-year-old shot eight birdies to finish one shot clear of South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, with fellow Australians Stephanie Kyriacou and Minjee Lee one shot further back at four-under.

“Am I leading the Australian Open? Oh, honestly I never thought that (was possible),” Lee said.

“Hopefully I can do that for the next three days.”

Even the rain won’t stop 16-year-old Rachel Lee from making birdie to take the outright lead #AusOpenGolf

— WPGA Tour of Australasia (@WPGATour) November 30, 2023

The year 10 student at Endeavour Sports High School only sealed her place in the field at the start of the week.

With a school bell to remind Lee to head to class, it was left to her coach to call her to the tee.

“I thought I was at 8.38am and not 8.28am and I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t do that again,” she said.

“I was putting and my coach says, ‘Rachel, you’re on the tee’. So I just ran out there.”

Two-time major champion Minjee Lee staged a strong comeback, rolling over six birdies in her inward nine holes after a tough opening.

“I mean, yeah, that’s what you’d expect from champions,” her brother Min Woo said.

“Rounds can go south pretty quickly. There’s a lot of momentum in this game.

“So it is what it is and, yeah, I’m proud of her to bounce back. You can’t win it on Thursday, but you can lose it.

“So I’m sure her score’s somewhere up there and she’ll probably shoot a low one tomorrow.” 

Australian Open Leaderboard:

Cam Davis -9
Patrick Rodgers -8
Hayden Hopewell -7
Rachel Lee (a) -6
Jiyai Shin, Jenny Shin -5
Stephanie Kyriacou -4

Full leaderboard: Click here

Day two tee times: Click here

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