BRISBANE, Australia – Adam Scott shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday after a 6 a.m. tee time to trail by one stroke after the first round of the Australian PGA championship at Royal Queensland.
Three other Australians shot 65s in the afternoon groups – Min Woo Lee, Jason Scrivener and John Lyras – to share the first-round lead.
Brad Kennedy, Anthony Quayle and South Korean Jeunghun Wang matched Scott’s 66 and were tied for fourth.
Scott was playing in the same early-morning group as Open champion Cameron Smith, who was three strokes behind after a 68, and Ryan Fox, a close runner-up to Rory McIlroy on the DP World Tour’s order of merit this season, who had a 72.
The 35-year-old Fox is No. 27 in the world after ending last year at No. 213. The New Zealander won two European tour events and had four runner-up finishes in his resurgent season.
Scott had an early task for “new” caddie Steve Williams, who has come out of retirement to carry the bag for the 2013 Masters champion. When he woke up for his ultra-early tee time, Scott couldn’t find his golf bag.
Eventually recovered from his manager’s hotel room, the pair were welcomed by hundreds of early risers on the 10th tee.
“It was panic stations ... Steve was kicking doors down,” Scott laughed of his early-morning search for his clubs.
Strong approach play led to four tap-in birdies in five holes on either side of the turn and then, after back-to-back bogeys brought him back to the field, Scott’s putting gave him two more birdies in the final three holes.
Scott sought local advice on how to navigate Royal Queensland’s dramatically undulating greens that feature sharp run-offs. His decision to putt multiple times from off the green paid off.
“The conditions couldn’t be better and you want to take advantage of that,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that, all really solid stuff.”
Scott said Williams, who caddied for the Australian when he won the Masters nine years ago, was keen on his tournament return.
“Yeah, it was great, he obviously hasn’t been out at any events for quite a long time, so I think he was pretty excited,” Scott said. “We came out and played Tuesday morning, it’s quite easy. I may have changed, but I know he’s not and so I knew what to expect when we came out and to fall back into familiar routines was pretty good.”
Back in Australia after a three-year absence due to the coronavirus pandemic, world No. 3 Smith shrugged off an “uncomfortable” first nine with four birdies and stayed within touching distance of the lead.
“Scotty was playing really nicely. He’s coming into some form, the old fella, and might be hard to chase down,” Smith said. “Yeah, I’d like it (a final-round match-up), haven’t done that yet with Scotty, it’d be epic.”
The 24-year-old Lee said his attitude the last few months “has just been just to have fun.”
“Lots of families and kids out there and I love to show off and inspire little kids,” Lee said. “I was one of those kids trying to get a ball or trying to get a high-five ... that was me not long ago.”
Nicolai Hojgaard shot 68 while his 21-year-old identical twin Rasmus Hojgaard had a 69. The Belgian siblings made European tour history last year by winning back-to-back tournaments.
Smith is among six players who have competed in Saudi-funded LIV Golf events this year. Others include Marc Leishman (69 Thursday), Wade Ormsby (72) and defending champion Jed Morgan (70).