After carding a six-under 66, Smith fronted cameras where he was shown a meme by a journalist who then asked “how many of Rory McIlroy‘s tears can you fit in the Claret Jug?” – the coveted trophy Smith earned by winning the British Open two months ago.
“I’m not answering that,” Smith said with a chuckle.
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McIlroy is one of the most vocal critics of LIV Golf, and all those players who defect to the Saudi-backed tour from the PGA Tour.
Smith made only two birdies on his opening nine holes until he made a tweak to his putting approach, which saw him rediscover some kind of form toward the end of the round and finished with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 second hole for a 66.
“I made an adjustment out there the last five or six holes. I just wasn’t quite hitting them into the back of the hole,” he said.
“A little speed adjustment and a few started to go in.”
Dustin Johnson ran off nine birdies – none from more than about three metres – on his way to a three-shot overnight lead with a 9-under 63.
Johnson is coming off a playoff win two weeks ago outside Boston, and with his team having won the last two events, his earnings in four starts already is already some $14.5 million – more than his best season on the PGA Tour over 22 starts.
Matthew Wolff had a 67, while the group at 66 includes Charles Howell III, whose round was marred by a double bogey, and Henrik Stenson, who missed the Boston event while coping with vertigo.
Phil Mickelson had five birdies and might have been closer to Johnson except for one mistake – and it was a big one. He took triple bogey on the par-3 fifth hole, his sixth of the day in the shotgun start. He shot a two-under 70.
Johnson and Talor Gooch, who birdied his first three holes and was one-over the rest of the way for a 70. They are the only players to have finished in the top 10 in all four LIV Golf Invitational events.
Patrick Reed also struggled, posting a two-over 74 despite making three birdies and an eagle.
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