US PGA Championship: Cameron Smith starts in Tulsa as Rory McIlroy takes the early lead

Cameron Smith has delivered a ball-striking masterclass to live up to his billing as one of the favorites for the US PGA Championship in Oklahoma.

Smith posted a birdie-filled two-under-par 68 to trail clubhouse leader Rory McIlroy by three shots after his first round at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.

Australia’s world number four leads the PGA Tour for birdies this season, with an average of 5.38 a round.

And he led the field on Thursday, too, with seven more birdies, all coming from inside three meters.

“I really like the golf course. I hit my driver really good today, which freed me up into the greens, and was able to make a few birdies there on the back nine,” Smith said.

“Just need to keep hitting fairways. My irons and putting feels really good, just keep those birdie looks coming.”

Smith also missed three putts from between seven and 10 feet.

But his back-nine blitz of five birdies in seven holes at least saved The Players champion from shooting over by after he reached the turn at two-over.

Smith was in a tie for sixth when he completed his round.

McIlroy was alone on top at five-under, the former world number one and four-time major champion holding a one-shot lead over Smith’s playing partner, Will Zalatoris, and fellow American Tom Hoge.

Matt Kuchar and Abraham Ancer were sharing fourth after firing three-under 67s.

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Veteran John Daly also caught the attention of the crowd, sitting two shots off the lead for almost an hour of play, before fading to go two-over.

Starting on the 10th, Smith could barely believe he missed a birdie start after his putt hung over the lip of the hole.

He waited as long as he could but the ball would not drop, and he had to settle for par before rebounding with a birdie on the 11th with a laser approach to the par three.

But after missing the fairway right off the tee on 12, Smith went from rough to rough to card a dreaded double bogey and gave up two shots.

He birdied with the par-five 13th to return to even par, only to drop successive shots on 16 and 17.

Smith’s brilliant fightback began with three consecutive birdies to open his inward nine and surge back into red figures.

Forced to lay up on the par-five fifth after finding a fairway off the tee, Smith produced the shot of the day to set up his sixth and most unlikely birdie, almost holing out for eagle from 215 yards.

He picked up another shot on the seventh to climb to three-under, only to drop a shot on the brutal par-three eighth after finding a trap and being unable to get up and down.

Australia’s two other morning starters—Cam Davis (72) and Matt Jones (73)—were seven and eight shots behind McIlroy, respectively.

Former champion Jason Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Min Woo Lee and Lucas Herbert all had afternoon tee times.

PAA

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