Australia’s Cameron Smith just needed a sense of urgency to hit him right in the face in his bid to qualify for the Presidents Cup on home soil.
Complacency can be a killer in all sports, and for the second season running, Smith had let a solid start to a season fade away with a quiet middle.
Last year, Smith opened by making 10 of his first 11 cuts with five top-10 finishes. His next nine starts, however, yielded just four weekends, with a best finish of 23rd.
But Smith thrives under the gun. With the FedExCup Playoffs approaching, Smith fired up and made his last four cuts of the year, including two top 10s.
This season, Smith made his first nine cuts, with three top-10 results. He also defended his Australian PGA Championship title. But then, he missed five of his next 11 cuts, with a 29th place the high mark.
The 25-year-old Australian then saw he’d slipped outside the automatic selection zone for the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in December – where he hopes to make his International Team debut.
He also noticed his FedExCup rank sliding ominously closer to the dreaded 125 mark.
Cue the uptick in his performances. At The Open he finished 20th but threatened the top 10 until wild weather hit Sunday.
Proving it was no fluke, the former Zurich Classic of New Orleans winner opened the World Golf Championships – FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Thursday with a 5-under 65 to be tied second. He’s on pace to finish strong once more.
‘I like having a motive. Something to play for,’ Smith admitted.
‘It has been a bit of a frustrating year. I’ve had a long middle of the season there, couldn’t really get much rolling. I was working hard and nothing was kind of going my way.
‘That’s just golf sometimes, you never really know what it’s going to throw at you. Keep grinding through it and the results will always be around the corner.’
Smith’s finish a week ago moved him back to eighth in the Presidents Cup standings with just five weeks before the top eight secure spots for Melbourne. His destiny in his own hands.
‘My destiny has been in my own hands all year, but it is certainly a huge goal of mine to be on the Presidents Cup team,” Smith said.
‘I think I’ve played well enough to be on it. But now it’s up to me to make sure if it.’
Sitting with Smith in a tie for second, three shots behind leader Jon Rahm, is Japan’s Shugo Imahira.
Imahira sits 12th on the International team standings and also has desires to make it to Melbourne. The two-time Japan Tour winner has placed in the top 10 in his last five starts on his home Tour.
‘I haven’t been watching the standings too closely but I know a good performance this week could help my goal of making the team,’ Imahira said through a translator.
‘It would be an honor to make it.’
Justin Harding is in 11th place in the standings but was +2 on Thursday.