Australian Open: Target on LIV rebel Cam Smith’s back this summer

Tensions have eased between PGA Tour players and LIV rebels, including Aussie star Cam Smith.

But that doesn’t mean the British Open champ won’t have a target on his back when he returns home this summer for the Australian Open and PGA, Smith’s first trip home for three years.

Smith is the headline act as the two biggest tournaments on the Australian calendar return after Covid-enforced breaks, with the Open to be played for the first time since 2019.

The best Australian players are all locked in to a field that will boast three major champions and a sterling crop of rising stars, including Lucas Herbert, a PGA Tour winner and two-time DP World Tour winner now firmly ensconced among the world’s best.

Having taken his career on an upward trajectory since the last Australian Open, which included breaking into the world’s top 50, a maiden visit to the Masters and two top-15 major finishes in 2022, Herbert will come home not just hopeful of taking down world No.3 Smith but looking forward to it.

“He’s your player of the year from Australia, no doubt, and I know that he loves coming home and playing those events. So I think everyone else in the field would be looking at Cam as that’s the guy they have to beat,” Herbert said from South Africa where he’s playing this week.

“But I also know that Leish (Marc Leishman), Scotty (Adam Scott) and myself are all sitting there knowing if we play well we can compete with Cam and definitely have a chance to beat him.

“I’ve had a season now pretty much playing against those boys week in week out, so I’m sort of used to that and they don’t have the same effect they might have on some of the other guys in the field who were getting up early on a Monday morning to watch them finish off PGA tour events.

“I‘m not putting an event on my schedule just to turn off and have a laugh. If I’m putting an event on my schedule, I want to play well and I want to win it.”

“I know Cam will be down there trying to win and he’s someone I’d love to go up against coming down the back nine on Sunday. If he gets going and plays really well, we’re probably going to struggle, but on our day we’re all capable of beating each other.”

Herbert is back locked into the golfing grind of travel and play as he looks to secure playing rights in both Europe and on the US PGA Tour, where he broke through and won the Bermuda Championship last November.

It’s enough for the 26-year-old from Bendigo, and most of his rivals, to zone out of the back and forth over Greg Norman’s LIV Golf league, which Smith joined after signing a deal reportedly worth upwards of $140m.

Even Scott conceded that LIV “rocked the boat”, and while Herbert did have issues with converts protesting their PGA Tour bans, he said there were no tensions with the likes of Smith or Leishman, who are among a handful of Aussies playing for Norman’s Saudi-backed league.

“To be honest, I think it was tense for maybe the first month. I think everyone was sort of trying to figure out what was going on and who‘s gonna go with who and what it’s gonna look like,” Herbert said.

“I think the tour players are now pretty much over it. All of us just want to turn up and play and there’s two pretty big lawsuits going on. We don’t really see a lot of the LIV guys anymore.

“I think everyone’s kind of over it and sick of talking about and sick of answering questions about it.

“I’d say that the two to three tours are gonna exist, and you’re not going to have any crossover. You’re not going to have players playing both tours. I think every player that went there knew what they were signing up for.

“They knew that the PGA Tour was going to ban them, but now I don’t necessarily agree with how they can complain that they can’t now play on the PGA Tour.

“But you know that’s their battle and I’m not really involved in it at all.”

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