Davis makes hot start in pursuit of second Open crown

Darren Walton |

Former champion Cam Davis has lit up The Lakes to place the chasing pack on notice with a storming Australian Open first round in Sydney.

Taking full advantage of the perfect morning scoring conditions, Davis ominously ripped through his opening nine holes in six under and picked up three more birdies coming home in a blazing nine-under 63 start on Thursday.

The magical round would have equalled John Senden’s course record but wasn’t recognised after officials opted for preferred lies following Wednesday night’s heavy rain.

“I made a couple of nice putts to keep the score going. It was a really solid round,” Davis said.

“I know this place relatively well and I have plenty of good memories in the bank to go out and play the course with, but that’s by the far the cleanest round I have ever had around here.”

The US PGA Tour star has a one-stroke lead over American Patrick Rodgers, with Western Australia’s Hayden Hopewell one shot further back in a tie for third with Scotland’s Connor Syme.

Syme’s 64 was the best round at The Australian, while fellow Scot Grant Forrest was a shot further back in a four-way tie for fifth with Frenchman Alexander Levy and US pair Nicollo Galletti and Sean Crocker.

Pre-tournament fancy Min Woo Lee opened with a five-under 66, four shots behind in a share of ninth, but superstar Cameron Smith could only conjure a 71 in his first round since tearfully missing the cut at last week’s Australian PGA Championship.

The day most certainly belonged to Davis.

After teeing off from the 10th hole, the world No.43 collected four birdies and a brilliant eagle three at the short but treacherous par-5 14th to set the tone.

He made more birdies on the fourth, seventh and eighth holes but was annoyed at missing a short putt at the last that would have vaulted the 28-year-old to 10 under.

“Without the wind, it was awesome to make the most of the conditions the way they were,” Davis said.

“I had good clean control of my ball all day and give myself good putts for birdie.”

The hot start comes six years after Davis won the 2017 Open at The Australian Golf Club next door, where he will play his final three rounds, assuming he makes the halfway cut on Friday.

Looking to complete a prestigious Australian PGA Championship and Open double, Lee reached the turn in three under but it was anything but smooth going.

He needed a chip-in to save par on the par-5 11th after driving into a fairway bunker, before duffing his devilish third shot into another trap from where he holed out to roars of approval from the huge crowd following the marquee morning group.

Starting on the back nine, Lee picked up his first birdie of the day on the 13th. 

He followed up with another on 14, added a third on 17 before saving par on 18 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.

Cameron Smith drives off the 10th tee at the Australian Open.
Top-ranked Cameron Smith endured a disappointing opening round at the Australian Open. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

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.

Former world No.1 Adam Scott also disappointed in his latest quest for an elusive second national title, carding an even-par 71 at The Australian, while Poland’s defending champion Adrian Meronk flopped with a 73 to be languishing outside the top 100.