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Third-ranked Smith wins first LIV Golf title at Chicago

CHICAGO (AFP) – 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.

Team Captain Cameron Smith of Punch GC poses with the trophy. PHOTO: AFP

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 (US) 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 USD4 million LIV Golf top prize from a USD25 million purse to a 2022 riches haul that includes USD1.47 million for the Tournament of Champions win, USD3.6 million at the Players and USD2.5 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.

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