Defending champion Cameron Smith has seized control at the Australian PGA Championship and will begin the final round with a three-shot buffer on his World Cup partner, Marc Leishman.
The 25-year-old Smith put on a ball-striking clinic at Royal Pines on Saturday, hitting 16 greens in regulation, to fire a flawless five-under 67 and move to 14-under-par with 18 holes to play.
Smith, who finished runner-up alongside Leishman at the Melbourne World Cup last week, played a steady front nine before scoring back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes thanks to his elite short game.
“You want to play against the best players in the world and Leish is one of those guys, so I'm looking forward to a good battle tomorrow,” said Smith, who is looking to become the first player since Robert Allenby (2000/01) to successfully defend the Australian PGA.
"I'm just going to do my stuff and see how big of a lead I can get tomorrow."
Leishman also excelled in the heat today to sign for three-under 69 and reach 11-under-par for the week.
But the big Victorian, who hit 15 greens in regulation, is still adjusting to the grainy Bermuda greens of the Benowa course.
“You want to play against the best players in the world and Leish is one of those guys, so I'm looking forward to a good battle tomorrow.” – Cameron Smith
“I hit the ball probably the best I have all week and putts just weren't dropping for me,” Leishman said.
“So yeah, it was a frustrating day, but nice to make that putt on the last and that putt on 17 to get within three.”
The 35-year-old is looking to finally capture his first big title on home soil. But he is fully aware how difficult that will be, having already played with and against Smith for three consecutive weekend rounds.
“It's hard to win from the front, it's also hard to win from behind … It's hard to win from anywhere,” said the World No.21.
“I've just got to do what I can do, worry about trying to shoot a good score and see if (Smith) plays well or not. I'm expecting him to, so I'm thinking I'm going to need a really good score.”
RIGHT: Leishman will play alongside Smith in the final group of the Australian PGA Championship. PHOTO: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images.
Earlier, journeyman Matt Millar held the clubhouse lead after posting his own bogey-free five-under 67.
The Canberra product will begin the final round seven shots adrift of Smith and play alongside American drawcard and 2016 champion Harold Varner III.
The 28-year-old Varner, who has been drilled with questions this week regarding his relationship with Michael Jordan, played a wild round today that featured five birdies, two bogies and one double bogey.
“You've got to keep giving yourself opportunities no matter what, you can't quit,” said Varner, who carded one-under 71.
“I didn't come all the way over here just to … The last year helped me out a lot because I just had a bad attitude and I think I was like five or six under after 10 and just pissed it away. You just can't do that.”
Next in line at six-under-par is Braden Becker (67), Ben Eccles (69) and Matt Jager (73).