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Third-ranked Smith wins LIV Golf title at Chicago

CHICAGO: Reigning British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia won his first LIV Golf title on Sunday, holding off Dustin Johnson and Peter Uihlein down the stretch to win the Chicago Invitational. The 29-year-old from Brisbane fired a three-under par 69 to finish on 13-under 203 in the 54-hole shotgun start event at Rich Harvest Farms. World number three Smith finished with back-to-back birdies, the last from 20 feet, to defeat two-time major winner Johnson and Uihlein by three strokes.

Nine weeks after capturing the Claret Jug at St. Andrews, Smith said he needed a victory to send a message to critics of his decision to jump from the PGA Tour to the Saudi-backed upstart series. “I think I had to prove to myself and some other people that I’m a great player, that I’m out here to win golf tournaments,” Smith said. LIV Golf’s record prize money has helped lure several big-name PGA defections, prompting the PGA to issue indefinite bans on former members and spark an antitrust lawsuit in the United States set for trial in 2024.

Smith’s departure was a big blow for the US PGA Tour, where he’d won the Tournament of Champions in January, The Players Championship in March and his first major title in July at St Andrews. Smith added a $4 million LIV Golf top prize from a $25 million purse to a 2022 riches haul that includes $1.47 million for the Tournament of Champions win, $3.6 million at the Players and $2.5 million at the Open.

Smith took a three-stroke lead after Johnson opened with a bogey at the first. Smith missed a six-foot par putt to bogey the fourth and a poor blast out of a bunker at the sixth led to another bogey. Both birdied the par-5 seventh but Smith rolled in a five-foot birdie putt at the eighth and after Johnson made back-to-back bogeys at eight and nine it was Uihlein who trailed Smith by three at the turn. “I didn’t have my best stuff the first eight or nine holes but I struck it nice down the back nine.”

Smith chipped within inches of the hole and tapped in for birdie at the par-5 11th. He took a bogey at the par-3 16th, lipping out on a short par putt, but denied his US rivals with his closing birdies. “A little disappointed in the way I played,” said Johnson, who shot 70. “I hit a lot of good putts. Just nothing would go in the hole.” Johnson’s 4 Aces won the team event for the fourth consecutive time.

Late birdie lifts Homa

Meanwhile, Max Homa chipped in for birdie at the 72nd hole on Sunday to win the PGA Tour Fortinet Championship for a second straight year as Danny Willett crumbled at the last hole. Homa fired a four-under par 68 at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, his 16-under total of 272 giving him a one-shot win over England’s Willett, who missed a three and a half-foot birdie putt at 18 that would have given him the win. “It was kind of a wild finish,” Homa said. “The last, like, three minutes are kind of a blur. But I played really good golf. I played solid.”

Willett remains in search of his first US PGA Tour title since his 2016 Masters triumph, although he’s won twice since then on the DP World Tour. He took a one-shot lead with a birdie at the 14th, where he drained a 15-foot putt from the fringe after an impressive approach shot from behind a tree. He appeared to be in command at the par-five 18th, where he landed his 66-yard third shot less than four feet from the pin while Homa was in a bunker short and left of the green.

Homa’s bunker shot failed to reach the green, settling in a mown swale below the putting surface, but his chip took a couple of small hops and rolled in the cup. “I expected him to do it, but then it’s still a bit of a shock when it happens,” said Willett, who had outstanding putting all week from within 10 feet but couldn’t make his short birdie for the win. It burned the left edge and failed to drop, and he missed the four-footer coming back as well on the way to a three-under par 69 that gave him a 15-under total of 273.

“Disappointing way to finish, but you know, first out of the season, to be in contention, things are in a good place. We’ll live to fight another day,” Willett said. American Taylor Montgomery, making his fifth tour start, defied the rainy, chilly conditions with eight birdies in an eight-under 64 to finish third on 275. “Just a huge week,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know anything about the PGA Tour and points and stuff like that, but I know top-10s or top-fives is very big, especially for a guy in my spot.”

Chip on shoulder

Overnight leader Justin Lower carded a one-over 73 to share fourth on 276 with South Korean An Byeong-hun, who signed for a 71. Homa’s victory at Silverado was one of his two last season, and his defense is a warm-up for next week’s Presidents Cup match play showdown in North Carolina. Homa admitted he was delighted to silence critics suggesting he only made it onto US captain Davis Love’s squad because of the big names who were ineligible after defecting to the upstart LIV Golf Series. “Honestly, I’ve had a lot of people – I know it’s just Twitter but I’ve had people telling me if the LIV guys wouldn’t have left I wouldn’t have made the Presidents Cup team,” Homa said. “So I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder this week.” – AFP

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