Smith leads RBC Heritage after career-low round, two-time champion Cink lurking

By Sports Desk April 15, 2021

Cameron Smith carded a nine-under-par 62 to set the early pace by one stroke after the first round of the RBC Heritage.

Australian golfer Smith turned in a bogey-free round at Harbour Town on Thursday for the lowest score of his PGA Tour career.

The 2020 Masters runner-up birdied three of the last four holes, just missing an eagle at the last when his approach shot missed the hole by inches. 

Smith finished with nine birdies in the opening round, tying his career record for most birdies in a single round on Tour.

"Everything just came together," Smith told reporters. "It was a great day on the green. I was hitting my irons really good. I had lots of good looks, and I just took advantage of them."

Smith's score matched the lowest opening round in tournament history, joining Davis Love III in 2002 and Peter Lonard three years later. 

The 27-year-old has two career PGA Tour titles, the most recent in January 2020 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 

"I just feel really comfortable," Smith said. "Mentally I feel very free out there. I feel like I can hit the shot that I need to hit and going ahead and trying to execute it. I just feel like every shot I'm hitting, I'm putting 100 per cent into it, and on a day like today, it's really rewarding."

Two-time champion Stewart Cink started early and was the clubhouse leader with a 63 before Smith's torrid closing stretch left him second on the leaderboard. 

Cink's score on Thursday was the American veteran's best in 75 career rounds at Harbour Town. 

"A round like this doesn't show you there is more out there," Cink said. "A round like this shows you what you're doing is already dead on, and why change anything?"

Matt Wallace and Collin Morikawa are three shots back at six under, followed by Charles Howell III, Billy Horschel and Harold Varner III – who are a stroke further adrift.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris shot a three-under-par 68, while world number one Dustin Johnson ended the day eight shots off the pace.

Defending champion Webb Simpson opened his bid for back-to-back titles with a first-round 71, leaving him tied for 67th. 

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  • Lukaku lifts short-handed Belgium but ensures Eriksen remains the priority Lukaku lifts short-handed Belgium but ensures Eriksen remains the priority

    Widespread concern met the decision for Denmark and Finland to return to the pitch less than two hours after Christian Eriksen had first collapsed in Copenhagen on Saturday.

    An alarming incident prompted serious fears for Eriksen's life, fears that were eased but not eradicated by positive updates on the midfielder's condition.

    For those watching from afar, the swift restart could not have been anticipated. There was wonder instead for how Belgium and Russia could possibly play later.

    The Belgium squad features Eriksen's Inter team-mate Romelu Lukaku and long-term Ajax and Tottenham colleagues Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

    But, sure enough, confirmation was forthcoming of the resumption in Group B's first fixture, set for 20:30 CET, with Belgium's kick-off to follow as scheduled half an hour later.

    Understandably, Denmark turned in a distracted display. Lacking the same enthusiasm as earlier, they fell to a 1-0 defeat that would usually have been considered a major upset. Few were thinking about Finland's historic result, minds focused instead on Eriksen.

    Indeed, it was a similar story in Saint Petersburg, even if Russia made for accommodating hosts.

    Lukaku profited from hapless Andrey Semenov defending and finished ruthlessly after 10 minutes. Rather than revel in his eighth tournament goal – the most of any Belgium player – the forward made for a nearby television camera.

    "Chris," he bellowed, reaching the lens. "Chris, stay strong. I love you."

    Eriksen occupied Lukaku's thoughts even at a moment of apparent elation, an action that backed up the words of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

    "At these times, the unity of the football family is so strong and [Eriksen] and his family carry with them the good wishes and prayers of everyone," Ceferin said.

    Further tributes will follow and it is difficult to imagine how that agonising Parken Stadium wait for family, friends, team-mates, opponents and fans, eager for any news at all as medical staff worked at length, does not overshadow the entire tournament.

    Lukaku will hope there is at least time for some Belgian cheer before the Euros concludes at Wembley next month.

    If Eriksen continues to recover, the Red Devils striker can allow his attention to return to the professional task at hand: finally delivering finals glory for his country.

    Now or never is the popular verdict. Belgium entered this competition with a squad that boasts the most caps and ranks second oldest, behind only Sweden.

    Lukaku is 28 and should play at Qatar 2022 and beyond, but some of his team-mates may not.

    While the defence is undoubtedly ageing, the injury issues that are dogging other star names have become increasingly, frustratingly regular.

    As Belgium reached the latter stages of Brazil 2014, Euro 2016 and Russia 2018 – only France also figured in the quarter-finals of all three tournaments – no outfield players started more matches than Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Axel Witsel (all 15 – tied with Alderweireld).

    In 2020-2021, the trio were restricted to 11, 36 and 18 club starts respectively.

    Hazard, having dealt with a series of muscle problems, started from the bench on Saturday. De Bruyne (orbital fracture) and Witsel (torn Achilles tendon) are both still recovering.

    "Those are players who have something extra," said Dries Mertens, who took up one of the vacant attacking roles. "To not have three players like that, we're going to feel that, but we have to step up and be ready."

    Leander Dendoncker stepped in for Witsel and said: "Axel has such a massive role in the squad, so it's logical we're talking about him. Kevin and Eden aren't here now either, and we're all talking about their absence. It's normal; they've earned it."

    But it was Lukaku who ensured that absence was not felt. His clinical opener wrecked Russian dreams and might have been quickly followed by a second had Georgi Dzhikiya not expertly intervened. There were two minutes remaining when he belatedly hit the net again for Belgium's third, celebrated in more traditional fashion.

    The Nerazzurri superstar has now been involved in 26 goals (22 goals, four assists) in his 19 games for Belgium since the World Cup.

    Of Lukaku's nine finals goals, only one has arrived in the knockout stages, but this early effort was crucial in seizing control of the group. On this form, he will surely also add to that tally.

    For all that this was an impressive win as Hazard featured sparingly and two key midfielders not at all, there is an argument – at least from those studying their wallcharts – Belgium might actually be better served finishing second in their pool. That could potentially mean no repeat of 2018, when they landed in the trickier half of the draw and met France in the last four. The same scenario is very possible again from first place.

    That was not something for Lukaku to worry about on this occasion, though.

    His friend's welfare was of primary concern, and then a talismanic outing to lift spirits just a little at the end of a tough day for football.

  • Belgium 3-0 Russia: Lukaku at the double in comfortable Red Devils win Belgium 3-0 Russia: Lukaku at the double in comfortable Red Devils win

    Romelu Lukaku sent his support to Christian Eriksen after setting Belgium on their way to a 3-0 victory Russia in their Euro 2020 opener on Saturday.

    Lukaku's Inter team-mate Eriksen is awake in hospital and undergoing tests after collapsing during Denmark's encounter with Finland in Copenhagen earlier in a traumatic second day of the tournament.

    Red Devils record goalscorer Lukaku said "Chris, I love you" into a television camera following his opening goal in the Group B match at Saint Petersburg Stadium.

    Thomas Meunier scored Belgium's second in the first half and the impressive Lukaku added a late third as the top-ranked side in the world moved level on points with Finland, 1-0 winners over Denmark in a game that resumed following encouraging news on Eriksen.

     

  • Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse Denmark 0-1 Finland: Historic Pohjanpalo winner overshadowed by Eriksen collapse

    Finland marked their first appearance at a major tournament with a 1-0 win over Denmark but their opening Euro 2020 Group B match was overshadowed by the collapse of Christian Eriksen. 

    The match at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen was suspended shortly before half-time after Inter midfielder Eriksen collapsed to the ground with no one around him.

    Team-mates and referee Anthony Taylor called for immediate help from medical staff, with the players forming a protective barrier around Eriksen while efforts were made to resuscitate him.

    The 29-year-old was carried from the pitch, but positive news followed with the Danish Football Union stating Eriksen was "awake" and set for "further examinations" after being taken to hospital. 

    Both sets of players decided to resume the game after more than 100 minutes away from the pitch, with Joel Pohjanpalo sealing an historic triumph for Finland shortly before the hour mark against an understandably deflated Denmark side, who missed a late penalty through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Denmark started on the front foot, with Jonas Wind, Hojbjerg and Eriksen forcing Lukas Hradecky into saves inside the opening 20 minutes. 

    Thomas Delaney and Martin Braithwaite then fired off target as Denmark continued to push forward in search of an opener. 

    The game was suspended for almost two hours following Eriksen's collapse, the players ultimately returning to finish the remaining few minutes of the first half before a short half-time interval. 

    Despite Denmark's dominance, it was Finland who opened the scoring with their first attempt on goal, Pohjanpalo heading through the weak hands of Kasper Schmeichel in the 59th minute. 

    Kasper Hjulmand's side had a golden opportunity to draw level 16 minutes from full-time when Paulus Arajuuri brought down Yussuf Poulsen in the penalty area, but Hojbjerg's tame spot-kick was kept out by Hradecky.

    What does it mean? Finland's famous win will soon be forgotten 

    Ordinarily, Finland beating a side 44 places above them in the world rankings in their first ever European Championship match would be a head-turning result. 

    As it is, the win – achieved thanks to Finland's solitary effort on goal – will largely be forgotten following the distressing scenes involving Eriksen. 

    The reports coming out of Denmark on Eriksen's condition while his team-mates played out the game were encouraging and their attention will now surely turn to his recovery rather than dwelling on an opening-day defeat. 

    Hradecky thwarts dominant Denmark

    Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Hradecky made six saves to deny Denmark, the most important of which was to keep out Hojbjerg's penalty. That save meant he became only the third goalkeeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championship after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (for Poland against Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (for Denmark against Spain).

    Hojbjerg's spot-kick woe

    Hojbjerg made more successful passes (78) than any player on the pitch and his 11 possession gains was only bettered by Daniel Wass (12), but the Tottenham midfielder was unable to net from the spot and secure what would have been an emotional point for his side.

    Key Opta Facts:

    - Finland have only lost one of their last eight competitive matches, picking up five victories and four clean sheets in the process (D2).
    - Denmark have missed three of their last four penalties in major competitions (World Cup + Euros), having scored the previous five between 1984 and 1998.
    - They have also failed to win eight of their nine opening matches at the European Championships (D3 L5).
    - Pohjanpalo scored Finland's first ever goal at the European Championships with what was their first shot in the competition.
    - He scored his 10th goal for Finland in what was his 43rd cap for his country – becoming one of only two players in their Euro 2020 squad to have netted 10+ goals for the national side (also Teemu Pukki, 30).
    - Hradecky is only the third keeper to save a penalty on their debut appearance in the European Championships after Przemyslaw Tyton in 2012 (Poland v Greece) and Trols Rasmussen in 1988 (Denmark v Spain).

    What's next?

    Denmark face Group B heavyweights Belgium in Copenhagen on Thursday, while Finland take on Russia in St. Petersburg a day earlier.

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