AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Cameron Smith’s signature mullet is flappable. Very flappable. His game? Not so much.
The 28-year-old Australian’s opening round at the Masters on Thursday started and ended with double bogeys. In between came eight birdies and ultimately a 4-under 68 that vaulted him to the upper reaches of the leaderboard, a surge fueled by the kind of creative and calmly fearless play that guided Smith to a steely one-shot victory at the Players Championship last month.
He’s well aware he could have gone even lower save for a pair of wayward approach shots at the first and the last. Yes, the mistakes will eat at him. Well, maybe. Minutes after calling his day “a little bit disappointing,” Smith insisted he’s already moved on.
“The less you guys bring it up, the less, the quicker I’ll forget about it,” he said with a laugh.
Smith’s game is an anachronism of sorts, one brought into stark contrast while playing alongside Bryson DeChambeau, who never met a driver he didn’t like to mash. That’s not Smith. He doesn’t hit it particularly far — he was 60th in driving distance in the 90-man field during the opening round — or particularly straight.
He doesn’t have to excel at either thanks to a world-class short game, the kind that lends itself to getting a green jacket draped over your shoulders on Sunday afternoon. The world’s sixth-ranked player didn’t panic after a tee shot into a bunker, a splash-out, a pitch that went long, a blah chip and two putts had him 2-over 20 minutes into his workday.
There was plenty of time to stew if Smith wanted. Paul Casey’s withdrawal due to back issues left Smith and DeChambeau a twosome stuck between a pair of threesomes, including one featuring Tiger Woods.
Yet during the long lags in play, Smith kept it loose, mostly chatting with caddie Sam Pinfold about the Brisbane Broncos, Smith’s hometown rugby team. Anything but the task ahead. Besides, he’s grown comfortable among the Georgia pines, never missing a cut in five starts and putting together a runner-up finish to Dustin Johnson in 2020.
“I love this place,” Smith said. “I think my short game has definitely got me out of a lot of bad spots around here, but at the end of the day I think you just need to give yourself opportunities. You need to hit your irons close, and you need to be really good with the putter.”
For twoish hours in the middle of his round, Smith did both while putting together eight birdies in a stretch of 12 holes.
A chip-in from off the green on the par-4 fifth provided a welcome jolt. His iron on the par-3 sixth landed a foot from the hole. A wedge to within five feet on the ninth helped him make the turn at 2-under. Birdies at 12, 14, 15 and 16 pushed him to 6-under and the lead before a tee shot that drifted right on the 18th blunted his momentum. A punch out, a wedge that came up short and three putts gave him a double bogey to bookend the one at the first.
He planned to work out any lingering angst by spending 30 minutes on a stationary bike back at the house he’s renting. Then maybe whip up a meal — he made some spaghetti Bolognese on Wednesday — and relax.
Sure, he could have posted a number for the rest of the field to catch. He didn’t quite get there, but he knows he’s in solid position heading into what could be a blustery weekend that will have the mullet his barber just cleaned up fluttering from underneath his hat in all its shabby-chic glory.
About the hair. It’s become part of his identity as much as his increasingly impressive performances, so much so that Hall of Famer Gary Player — who picked Smith to win his first major this weekend — wonders what might happen if Smith finds himself in Butler Cabin late Sunday evening.
“I’d love to see how he’s accepted with that long hair in the clubhouse,” Player said. “They might tell him to have a haircut.”
Or maybe not. The player that Player called “cocky” in the best way possible has no problem going against convention.
“He’s confident, which you’ve got to be, and he’s one hang of a putter,” Player said about an hour before Smith teed off. “It’s not going to surprise me, he’s not going to come in here and be overawed, as many players will be. He’ll be in there with a good chance to win.”
He’s on his way.
More AP Masters: https://apnews.com/hub/the-masters
Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.