(LIV Golf) – Cameron Smith was frustrated after finishing 35th last week in Greenbrier, his worst result of the LIV Golf League season. He didn’t feel good about his putter, or about the distance control with his wedges, normally two of his strengths. “A weird week,” he called it.
There was nothing weird about his play in Friday’s first round at LIV Golf Bedminster. Dialed in on a tough, challenging course, the Ripper GC captain opened with a 5-under 66 to grab a one-stroke lead over Charles Howell III at Trump National Bedminster.
“A little bit different to last week, which was the goal – especially today,” said Smith, seeking his second individual win of the season after last month’s victory in London.
The Australian star wasn’t the only one having a bounce-back moment.
Team points leader 4Aces GC suffered its worst-ever team result, a last-place finish in Greenbrier. But with Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed shooting twin 3-under 68s on Friday to share third place on the individual leaderboard, the Aces are tied for second with Stinger GC, one shot behind the Rippers.
“Definitely shocked, of course,” Reed said about last week. “Our team is way better than finishing last in a golf tournament. But at the same time, you just kind of go to one of those golf courses that doesn’t really fit your eye. If it happens not to fit a couple other guys on the team’s eye, either, you can just kind of get in one of those funks.”
With just three tournaments left in the regular season, a poor result can be costly in both the individual and team races. With Torque GC winning in Greenbrier, the 4Aces’ lead was reduced to seven points.
But after a hot start by the Aces on Friday, and Torque back in the pack in 10th place, it’s an opportunity for the Aces to rebuild their lead and create some separation from the closest chasers. They won at Bedminster last year during a stretch of four consecutive victories.
“Obviously coming in here, it’s a really good golf course, tough golf course. I think our team plays better on courses like this,” said 4Aces Captain Dustin Johnson. “We want to have a good week, and obviously we need to extend our lead a little bit.”
Smith is in his own race for the season-long Individual Champion title. He entered this week in second place, 15 points behind three-time tournament winner Talor Gooch, who is tied for 15th after the first round after shooting an even-par 71.
Trying to chase down Gooch, who has won three times this season, was one of the reasons Smith put in extra work on the range and practice greens this week.
“That was part of the reason for the work … to be the best at the end of the season. That’s what you want to be,” Smith said. “Sure, you want to win tournaments, but I think proving it over 13 tournaments is much better than one.”