The Australian duo of Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith ‘ham-and-egged it’ perfectly in the opening round of fourball to card a 62, a score that has them sharing top spot on the leaderboard at the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf.
The pair played aggressive but smart golf at Melbourne’s Metropolitan Golf Club to match the 10-under par rounds posted by the teams from South Korea (Byeong Hun An and Si Woo Kim) and England (Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter). The three leading nations are a stroke ahead of Malaysia, Belgium and defending champions Denmark. Our friends across the Tasman, the Kiwis represented this week by Ryan Fox and Mark Brown, opened with a 65 to share ninth place.
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“I think it was very important for us to get off to a good start,” Leishman said. “You don’t want to be fighting back the whole tournament, which the scores were pretty good today, it wasn’t that easy out there. So, yeah, happy to be I think tied for the lead. Cam had a nice – had his putter going today, which was great, and we combined pretty well. So that’s what you have to do in that format.”
Australia opened with a six-under 30 on the front nine thanks in part to a Smith eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. Leishman got going with a birdie on the par-3 sixth hole followed by two more on the seventh and ninth holes. The Australians are in search of their sixth World Cup of Golf title and first since Jason Day and Adam Scott triumphed down the road at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
“We kept chatting all day and I gave Leish a bit of an uppercut under the ribs after four,” Smith said. “I said, you know, you can turn up any time. We both played really well all day and we just got to keep being smart. I think it’s going to keep being windy and the course is only going to get firmer and faster, so just play smart and let the putting take care of itself.”
Considered among the favourites in Melbourne, the English pairing proved their mettle in team play with a 10-under result of their own. Poulter kick-started the round with birdies on two of the first four holes, and the duo made their charge alternating birdies from holes nine to 12 before Poulter added three in a row from the 14th to 16th.
“On a day like today you have to make some birdies,” Poulter said. “We made enough to get on the top of the board, which is the main goal. We dovetailed nicely; when one was out of position, the other one was in position and that’s exactly what you have to do today.”
The two are looking to bring home England’s first World Cup of Golf title since Luke Donald and Paul Casey accomplished the feat in 2004.
“This tournament’s won and lost on Friday and Sunday,” Poulter said. “Foursomes is the day where you can take yourself out of the tournament pretty quickly. In fourball you’re always going to make birdies, there’s enough par 5s on the course, and hopefully you don’t make any mistakes. Obviously, you know, Friday and Sunday are going to be the keys to this golf tournament.”
An and Kim were the first to combine for a 10-under 62 in the fourball. An contributed one eagle on the par-5 seventh hole and five other birdies while Kim, making his debut in the World Cup of Golf, fired four birdies for the team. They dropped a lone shot on the par-5 ninth hole, the only team to do so on that hole.
“Yes, we did well because we didn’t birdie the same holes. I think we saved each other pretty good, and when he was struggling, I made some birdies, and when I was out, he was making ‘some birdies,” An said. “So I think it all worked out pretty good today. Made some good par saves. Then the bogey on No.9 hurts a little bit, but we got enough birdies and eagles, so 10-under is pretty good.”
Team Korea’s fast start has given them an opportunity to improve on their previous best finish in the World Cup of Golf which is fifth position achieved in 1971 (Chang Sang Hahn/Seung Hak Kim) and 1982 (Chang Sang Hahn/Sang Ho Choi).
The second round of the World Cup of Golf, which will be played in the foursomes format, gets underway at 10:35am, with the last group due out on course at 12:45pm.