Chris Smith is turning his game around at just the right time.
With six full-field tournaments left in the PGA Tour season, Smith is in the one position that most young players fear more than an audit notice from the IRS - on the bubble of the top 125 on the money list, on the verge of having to return to qualifying school.On Thursday, he put those fears behind him with a fantastic finish that gave him a 2-stroke lead after the first round of the Bell Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario.
Smith closed out his best start of the year with three birdies and an eagle for a 6-under-par 66 on the wind-whipped Glen Abbey Golf Club that played much harder than his score lets on.
Smith snatched a 66 with iron play that set up four birdies inside 15 feet and booming drives that allowed him to play the par-5s in 4-under. He charged into the lead with a 341-yard drive that left him only a 9-iron into the par-5 18th, which he drilled downwind within 8 feet for an eagle.
Tim Herron, trying to win a tournament for the third straight year, holed a lob wedge from 81 yards for a eagle on No. 4 and chipped in for a birdie on the eighth hole to get to 5-under. But he bogeyed his last hole to slip into a group of six players at 68 that included Billy Andrade, Scott Ver-plank and Dudley Hart.
Jeff Sluman, coming off a win last week in Milwaukee, was 6-under at one point until three straight bogeys dropped him into a group at 69.
SAFECO CLASSIC: Sherri Steinhauer shot a 7-under-par 65, one stroke off her career best, to take a one-stroke lead over Penny Hammel after the first round of the Safeco Classic on Thursday in Kent, Wash. South Korean rookie sensation Se Ri Pak opened with a 67 in her bid for her fifth tournament title of the year.
MARTIN ACES: Casey Martin, the first player to use a cart at the U.S. Open and on the PGA Tour, reached another benchmark Thursday - his first hole-in-one as a professional. Martin aced the 172-yard 16th hole at Meadow Springs Country Club with a 7-iron. He finished with a 5-under-par 67 and was one stroke off the lead in the Nike Tour's Tri-Cities Open in Richland, Wash.
PGA CUP: Bruce Zabriski of Rye, N.Y., and Gene Fieger of Bryn Mawr, Pa., beat Englishmen Stephen Bennett and Andrew George 1-up Thursday as the United States took an 11-4 lead in the PGA Cup in Colorado Springs.
The U.S. club pros need only 11/2 points in Friday's 10 singles matches to retain the Llandudno International Trophy in the biennial matches against Great Britain and Ireland.
BRITISH MASTERS: Darren Clarke fired a 5-under-par 67 Thursday to take the opening-round lead in the British Masters at Coventry, England.
The golfer from Northern Ireland is hoping to use this tournament to overtake Lee Westwood as the top money-winner on the European PGA Tour.
Clarke, after a round that included six birdies, had a one-stroke lead on Switzerland's Paola Quirici. Quirici had a hole-in-one at the 196-yard fifth hole and was 5-under until a bogey on the 8th cost him a stroke and a share of the lead.