Jon Rahm clearly looked like the man to beat thru 36 holes at Liberty National. He shot 63 in windy conditions Thursday and backed it up with a 67 on Friday to take the 36-hole lead. But it was Cameron Smith who stole the show on moving day as he and Rahm share the lead at 16-under heading into Monday’s final round.
Smith began the day at 5 under, seven shots back of Rahm’s lead. He caught Rahm after a birdie at the 10th and took the outright lead with yet another birdie at 13. The Australian nearly aced the par-3 14th and added two more birdies at 16 and 17. He arrived at the 18th needing a birdie to shoot 59. He hit an excellent approach that spun back to 12 feet, but his putt slid by on the left side, as Smith “settled” for 60.
Smith said he didn’t think he had a chance to break 60 coming down the last two holes as 17 and 18 had played quite difficult all week. He surprised himself by making birdie on 17, and said his feelings did change a bit coming down the last knowing he had a chance.
“(They changed) a little bit. I haven't been in that situation before. It was completely new to me,” Smith said. “I just tried to get up there and do what I did the rest of the day, hit a good drive, and my driver definitely put me in that spot today for all those birdies.”
The round was Smith’s lowest round ever, not just on Tour. He said his previous career low was 62 at his home club in Australia, which he acknowledged as much different than nearly breaking 60 on the PGA Tour.
Smith conceded that it’s always difficult to back up a great round, but thought the extra day of rest—the final round will be postponed to Monday due to Hurricane Henry—could help him Monday.
“A round like this usually takes it out of you a little bit, the adrenaline, the highs and the lows. (I’m going to) sleep in, maybe a little bit of gym (workout) and come out Monday firing,” he said.
Rahm made four birdies on the front nine to retake the leaded and added another at the 11th. The Spaniard struggled coming home however as he made double at 13. He got one back at the 15th before his second shot at the drivable 16th skipped across the green and trickled into the water, leading to a bogey. Rahm bounced back once again with a birdie at 17.
Rahm said he flushed the 4-iron he hit on his second shot into 13, and chalked the double bogey up to a bad break, but his 67 matched his round from Friday, and Rahm said things seemed to even out.
“I started walking out there, well, that's on the green. I saw Adam wasn't, and looked up and it was a little higher than I expected it and seems like the wind might have picked up a little bit. It looked like just short from covering, so it's one of those things that happen in golf,” Rahm said. “But from that bad break, all I kept thinking was it's a good swing, there's plenty of birdie opportunities, let's get it going. And then at the same time got two good breaks on the tee shots on 17 and 18. At the end of the day, things seemed to balance out.”
After the difficult conditions and relatively high scores in the opening round, Liberty National has played significantly easier since. Erik Van Rooyen, Shane Lowry, and Corey Connors each equaled the previous course record of 62 after Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele shot 62 Friday.
“I didn't see as many people as we have seen shoot that low. But it's out there. If you can put the ball in the fairway, or even sometimes in the rough, the greens are soft enough to where you can be aggressive and still stop it,” Rahm said. “I think that's the beauty of it. That's why you're seeing low scores. Somebody is going to go be aggressive, hit the right shots and make the putts and put a low one out there.”