Cameron Smith made two 7-foot birdie putts to end his round of 4-under-68 and allow him to pass Dustin Johnson ahead of the third and final day of the LIV Golf Invitational-Chicago.
As easy as Johnson made it look in the opening round, Saturday at Rich Harvest Farms was such a fight that he shot over par for the first time in the 14 rounds he’s played in the Saudi-funded series.
Johnson was lucky, only two shots behind Smith. He went wide of the green on the par-4 17th and had to make an 8-foot par putt while Smith took the lead for the first time with his 7-foot birdie putt.
On her final hole, the par-5 18th, Johnson’s approach took a hard leap across the green. After a free drop from the stands, he weakly chipped to 8 feet and missed his yardie putt. Smith was on the other side of the green, slowing a 60-foot to 7-foot and potting that for another birdie.
Smith was at 10 under 134.
They will be joined in the lead group on Sunday by Peter Uihlein, the former US amateur champion who had the windy day’s weak round with a 66. With that, Uihlein was only three strokes behind on the last day.
Laurie Canter (68) and Charl Schwartzel (69), who won the first LIV Golf Invitational outside of London, were four shots behind. Group five back included Lee Westwood, Charles Howell III and Bryson DeChambeau.
Smith won the British Open at St. Andrews and earned $2.5 million. A win on Sunday would be worth at least $4 million.
“It was tough out there today,” Smith said. “I got a few breaks and DJ wasn’t quite making the putts he normally does.”
Phil Mickelson looked like he could get a round under par until he made three bogeys over four holes and shot 74 to fall 12 shots behind.
Mickelson spoke on Friday about the need for a collaboration between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. The PGA Tour has suspended players for playing in the Saudi-backed series without receiving a release for conflicting events.
Mickelson is among seven players — along with LIV Golf — to have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
“The PGA Tour has had the best players in the world for the last 20 or 30 years. That will never be the case again. LIV Golf is here to stay and that kind of divisive talk doesn’t do anyone any good,” Mickelson said. “The best solution is if we come together.
“I think you need both for the game of golf. Both are good for the game of golf. Integrating LIV Golf into the ecosystem of the golfing world is necessary,” said Mickelson, a senior recruiter in the early stages of LIV Golf. “Once that happens and we all start working together, it’s going to be a really positive thing for everyone.”
In the team competition, Johnson’s team of four was a stroke ahead of Smith’s team, with Uihlein’s great round helping put his team – captained by Brooks Koepka – two strokes behind.