Smith and Im, 2020 finalists, back in the race for the Masters

AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 9 (Reuters) – Cameron Smith and Im Sung-jae found themselves in familiar territory ahead of the final round of the Masters, hoping this time to script a different ending.

Two years ago, Australian Smith and South Korean Im tied for second behind American Dustin Johnson in a surreal November Masters played in front of just a handful of spectators due to COVID-19 restrictions.

There will be a full house this year as Smith starts the final lap three strokes behind American leader Scottie Scheffler, with Im five strokes behind.

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Smith and Im were four strokes behind Johnson after 54 holes in 2020, ultimately finishing five behind.

If world number one Scheffler is the hottest player on the planet, Smith is not far behind, winning the $20 million Players Championship last month, the richest event ever played.

“I can do that, I guess, when I’m up against the best guys in the world,” Smith said when asked what he learned from his recent success.

“It’s a good feeling to have. It’s deserved. It’s not a given. I’m going to have to go tomorrow and play some really good golf again, probably like today.

“Hopefully everything falls into place. I can’t control what anybody else is going to do tomorrow, so go ahead and really focus on myself.”

He was speaking after shooting four under par 68, the only player to beat 70 under very demanding conditions.

A victory for Smith would be the second for an Australian, following Adam Scott in 2013.

Former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley likes Smith’s chances.

“You can’t say he’s a big winner in terms of winning tournaments, (but) he doesn’t complicate the game too much and focuses on things that are really important, (namely) shooting good scores “said McGinley on Golf Channel.

“Smith right now is a guy I would be worried about.”

Meanwhile, I will be the first South Korean to win a green jacket.

The golfer, who stops at the top of his backswing for so long you’d think the TV feed froze, made his move with four back-nine birdies in a 71.

Further back, seven shots off the pace, were grand champions Charl Schwartzel and Shane Lowry, both shooting 73.

Schwartzel had the hit of the day, turning a 136-yard approach shot into the cut for the Eagle on the 10th, but fell back from there with four home bogeys.

“I just had a really bad day with the putter,” he said.

Lowry said: “Obviously I’m very disappointed.”

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Reporting by Andrew Both; edited by Jonathan Oatis

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