Australians in the hunt as Japan’s Kozuma sets LIV pace

Steve Larkin |

Australia’s Matt Jones is among the early leaders at the LIV Golf tournament in Adelaide.
Australia’s Matt Jones is among the early leaders at the LIV Golf tournament in Adelaide.

Australia’s Matt Jones says a fresh, relaxed mindset has him in the hunt for a cherished LIV Golf triumph in Adelaide.

Jones fired a six-under 66 in Friday’s opening round at The Grange to sit three shots shy of leader Jinichiro Kozuma of Japan.

Australians Cameron Smith (four under), Marc Leishman (five under) and  Jones all harnessed the support from the 40,000-strong crowd.

“We came in a little more relaxed this year,” Jones said.

“Last year we all wanted to play well and we didn’t, and I think this year we’re a little more relaxed and just let the golf course come to us and not try and push anything.

“Just play our game.”

Cameron Smith.
Cameron Smith, seen after almost chipping in from a bunker on the 12th, is five shots off the pace. (Michael Errey/AAP PHOTOS)

Jones is among a group at six under after making a fast start, with a birdie on his first hole, the par-5 10th, followed by a par and three consecutive birdies.

Compatriot Leishman potted five birdies in his blemish-free round.

“I changed my course management a little bit this year compared to last year,” Leishman said.

“I was a bit too conservative and I changed that because there are so many birdies out there.”

Kozuma, who entered LIV after finishing on the podium at a promotional event, started with three consecutive birdies and made further ground with an eagle at the par-5 seventh.

“My putting was really good. It was really hot,” the 29-year-old said.

Carlos Ortiz.
Carlos Ortiz during the first round: “I feel like I’m trending.” (Michael Errey/AAP PHOTOS)

“I had some troubles here and there but my putting was there to help me.”

Kozuma, a dual winner on the Japanese tour, holds a one-shot advantage over New Zealander Danny Lee and Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz  at eight under.

“I feel like I’m trending,” Ortiz said.

“I feel like my game is in a great spot right now. It’s good when you have a shot on your mind and it actually comes out like you were thinking about it.

“The wind wasn’t really blowing that hard. If the wind stays the way it is and with the rain we got yesterday, it definitely sets up the golf course pretty gettable.”

Andy Ogletree, Mito Pereira and Peter Uihlein and Anirban Lahri are tied for fourth, a shot further back.

Most attention centred on home-country hero Smith and his group of Jon Rahm (five under) and Sergio Garcia (one under).

Last year’s Adelaide victor Talor Gooch is four under, as is Bryson DeChambeau, while Phil Mickelson carded three under, Brooks Koepka two under and Joaquin Niemann five under.

Chile’s Niemann tops the individual standings – he has already won twice this season to collect $US9.5 million ($A14.6 million) – to lead Spain’s former world No.1 Rahm and South African Dean Bermester, who won last start in Miami.