Golf: Smith trails Wolff, Gooch by one in LIV Golf debut

World No. 2 Cameron Smith said he hopes the switch to the LIV tour will allow him to spend more time in Australia. PHOTO: AFP

(AFP) - World No. 2 Cameron Smith capped an eventful LIV Golf debut round with a massive eagle putt to lie one shot off the lead at the LIV Golf Invitational in Boston on Friday.

Americans Matthew Wolff and Talor Gooch topped the leaderboard at The International Golf Club outside Boston on seven-under 63.

Wolff seized his share of the lead with the help of two eagles - one of them the first hole-in-one in the history of the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit that has thrown the sport into turmoil.

"It was really cool to do that on a part of the golf course where there's a lot of fans, and to be the first one to have an ace at LIV Golf is really good," said Wolff, whose tee shot at the 178-yard second hole - his fifth - bounced once and rolled into the cup.

"I'm thrilled and stuff, but I'd rather be holding that trophy at the end of the week," added Wolff, who also eagled the par-five 12th.

Smith shared third on 64 with another LIV Golf newcomer, Chile's Joaquin Niemann.

The fourth event of the inaugural season drew a small group of demonstrators decrying LIV Golf as an attempt to "sportswash" Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

But plenty of fans turned out eager to see the new product that has provoked the wrath of the US PGA Tour and the DP World Tour.

The US tour is suspending any member player who appears on the circuit, which awards US$25 million (S$35 million) purses in a 54-hole format and has reportedly offered top stars tens of millions in signing bonuses.

Smith, the 29-year-old Australian who captured the Open Championship at St. Andrews in July, made the jump just this week and got right to business.

With three birdies in his first six holes and an eagle at the eighth, Smith had a share of the lead but found himself three adrift after a double-bogey at the par-four 14th.

Smith rebounded with a birdie at 15 and an unlikely par save at 16 - where his tee shot nestled at the base of a tree.

He got relief from a stance on a cart path but still damaged his gap wedge when it hit the tree on the shot. Nevertheless, he avoided dropping a stroke, and Smith was right back in the thick of it after rolling in a long eagle putt at 18.

'Onwards and upwards'

"It was fun out there today," Smith said. "The round today was all right. Started off pretty strong and didn't hit the driver the way I wanted to those last six or eight holes. So something to work on for tomorrow."

Smith acknowledged this week that money was a factor in his decision to make the move to LIV, even though it will cost him a spot on the International team for September's Presidents Cup.

He said he hopes the switch will allow him to spend more time in Australia, and no sooner was he in the LIV fold this week than he began lobbying for world ranking points to be awarded for the circuit's three-round events that feature fields of 48.

Quizzed about the experience of LIV Golf, Smith said he enjoyed the more free-wheeling atmosphere.

"I feel like the crowd out there is almost on top of you with the music," he said. "It feels like the course has a bit of a heartbeat.

"It was very different I would say, but something that I really enjoyed, and I can't wait for this to keep going onwards and upwards."

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