PGA Tour: Birdie blitz sees Austin Smotherman lead in Mexico as Jon Rahm makes solid start

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American Austin Smotherman finished with four straight birdies to grab a one-shot lead as his love affair with the Mexico Open continued on Thursday.

The late birdie blitz saw the 28-year-old shoot a bogey-free eight-under par 64 to lead by one stroke over South Africa's Erik van Rooyen and Argentina's Tano Goya.

Smotherman won his first professional title in 2018 at the Mexico Open, which was then part of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica developmental circuit. The tournament was later elevated to a main PGA Tour event.

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If Smotherman could manage to repeat the feat this time around, it would hand the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour graduate his maiden PGA Tour victory.

Among the golfers who trail two shots behind Smotherman with a score of 65 are American Tony Finau, who finished second behind Jon Rahm in the previous year's tournament, Canada's Taylor Pendrith, American Eric Cole, Germany's Stephan Jaeger and Mexico's Raul Pereda.

"Nice little finish," Smotherman said. "Just feeling good. I feel like my game's in a good spot. Just super steady." At the par-4 third, Smotherman drove into a waste area left of the fairway, then dropped his approach inches from the hole and tapped in for birdie. "Stole that one on three," he said. "I hit it to a foot out of that left waste area. Had a little full pitching wedge knocked down a little bit and kick-in birdie there was nice." Defending champion Jon Rahm shot 67 to lie four back of Smotherman and was satisfied with his start. "It's a good score, I'm happy with the score," Rahm said. "Those first 13 holes we had virtually no wind, about as easy conditions as it can get. I wish I would have taken advantage of it more." Rahm signed off in style, rolling in a 25-footer for birdie on his final hole.

"I was rolling it really well all day, so to finish it off that way, obviously it always feels like you're stealing one from the field," he added.

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