Defending champ battles early at Royal Pines
Trees, sand and wayward tee shots have left defending champion Cameron Smith scrambling on the opening morning at the Australian PGA at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast.
His pursuit of a third straight Australian PGA trophy may have crashed on the launch pad.
Only Smith's excellent short game kept him level with the card through his opening nine holes before he tripped with a double-bogey at the 179m par three second hole he played as his 11th today.
The 2017-18 winner was four-over-par through 13 holes.
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Breathless conditions were perfect for scoring and fellow Queenslander Brad Kennedy showed how with five birdies in his opening nine holes.
Smith was up with the sparrows for a 6am tee off with power strikers Ryan Fox and Cameron Champ as his playing partners.
The first sign of an erratic morning appeared on Smith's second hole when his drive ricocheted out of the trees when he pulled his tee shot.
He was forced to play an exquisite chip-and-run from 30m across a rise and fall in the green with morning dew still a factor. A tap-in par was an early save.
He pulled out of one tee shot when a phone alarm went off on a spectator's phone. Smith's game took far longer to wake up.
His one early birdie was made from the left fairway bunker on the tough par four 13th hole, his fourth, when he landed his approach within 4m of the pin.
Smith salvaged par from the trees on the par five 15th, made another up-and-down for par on the par three 16th and made bogey from the rough on the 17th.
On the par three second, his 11th of the day, Smith went long over the green and a chip up the slope came back at him when he took an ugly double-bogey.
More trouble with the trees produced a bogey on the par five to follow.
Kiwi Fox and American Champ are two of the most prodigious drivers in the world and their eager gallery were treated.
Fox ripped his drive a metre past Champ on their opening par five, the 12th, while Champ hit a brutish drive 315m down the par five 15th to leave just a short iron to a 517m hole for an easy birdie.
Champ seemed a little befuddled by two missed putts from 1.5-3m range in his opening nine holes on the Royal Pines greens but still turned one-under.
Kiwis Nick Voke and David Smail set the early pace at four-under through their opening 11 holes while countrymen Ryan Chisnall (three-under through nine) and Fox (three-under through 13) were in close pursuit.