Date: February 01, 2008

Smith steps closer to history

Angus Morgan at Kingston Heath, Sportal An &aposawesome&apos day out on the course has brought AIS National Squad member Kristie Smith a step closer to history and the prospect of becoming the first amateur to win the Australian Open. Smith returned a morning-round 69 at Kingston Heath to take the tournament lead on Friday at five-under following her opening round one-under, 72. In fine, clear conditions, a welcome contrast to Thursday&aposs relentless early rain, Smith&aposs name ascended to the top of the leaderboard late in the morning and was never in any real danger of being displaced. Alone at three-under was Korean star Ji-Yai Shin (72-71) one shot clear of tournament favourite and titleholder Karrie Webb (72-72), compatriot Lindsey Wright (72-72) and Hee Young Park of Korea (71-73). In all, there were just seven players in red figures. While acknowledging that there&aposs a long way to go, 19-year-old Smith, whose father, former leading Australian professional, Wayne Smith, is caddying for her this week, is positive about her prospects of going on with the job. “It was pretty awesome – I had a great time out there,” she said. “It&aposs a bit of a new experience, and looking up at the leaderboard at the last was a pretty cool feeling. “I just played smart golf and I hit it pure all day – I probably only hit two bad shots out there.” Smith said she was well aware of her score throughout her round and aware also of her place in the field. “I looked at every scoreboard, probably,” she said. “I had just a massive smile on my face seeing myself at the top of the leaderboard and wanting to climb even further. “I finished tied for 25th last year and wanted to get up there this year in the top 20 and best amateur would be nice, but I know I can match it with the pros – I showed today that I can and I&aposm looking forward to the weekend.” Asked how she felt about the prospect of becoming the first amateur to take the national Open title, Smith replied: “Of course, it&aposs always in the back of your head, the first amateur to win.” After an early hiccup, a bogey at the par-three second, Smith got into a groove, picking up six shots through 10 holes before giving one back because of a wayward tee shot at the 170-metre par-three 17th. Smith dedicated her round to her father&aposs former caddie and family friend John King who died last week at the age of 51. King, who also caddied for Wayne Grady and Mark Hensby and who was a close mentor to many Aboriginal AFL footballers, was buried in Mildura today. Webb, who three-putted the 18th, said she was pleased to be positioned three off the lead despite some issues with the speed of the greens. “It was a really well-fought day today,” the World No. 3 said. “The conditions were really tough, especially in the last nine holes when the wind really, really picked up.” Webb, who played a practice round on Wednesday with the tournament leader, said she wasn&apost surprised to find an amateur two strokes in front at the half-way point. “Amateurs these days really don t fear the situation of a professional event – they just go out there to play and they know how good they are and I don&apost think they think, &aposI&aposm only an amateur, I shouldn&apost be doing this&apos,” Webb said. “They&aposre ready to play world-class golf, whether they&aposre playing amateur golf or in a professional event.” Overnight leader Ursula Wikstrom&aposs game totally unravelled on Friday. The 27-year-old Finn started bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey to slip from three-under to plus-five in a slide she was all but powerless to stop. The trend was arrested briefly with a birdie at the short par-five eighth but three more dropped shots early on the inward nine brought her perilously close to the projected cut at eight over. A birdie at the 18th saved her bacon. Friday&aposs best round was a five-under 68 by England&aposs Kirsty Taylor moving her to one-under overall following her first round 77. “I&aposd just like to be consistent,” Taylor said. “Last year wasn&apost so great for me and I&aposd like to just come back and be the player that I know I can be, so, fingers crossed.” Australian hopefuls with a free weekend include Nikki Garrett (76-78), Sarah Kemp (77-79), Kristie Newton (78-78) and Nikki Campbell (80-77). Meanwhile, the Executive Chairman of the Open, Paul McNamee said he was pleased with Friday&aposs strong gallery, estimated at around 6000.