Chilled out Cameron Smith sets the pace at The RBC Heritage, but can he convert the win?

After the rigours of Augusta National the Australian enjoyed a stress-free lap of Harbour Town to claim a one shot first round lead over Stewart Cink.

Cameron Smith had always looked like a good for fit Harbour Town on paper.

Finally, in the first round of this year's RBC Heritage, he proved as much in reality.

His career-low 9-under-par 62 Thursday tied the record-low opening score at Harbour Town and left the Aussie one stroke clear of Stewart Cink.

It's very far from a done deal, however.

Hilton Head Island is the perfect location for the PGA Tour's Masters after-party, with its relaxed resort vibes, but it is also a vulnerable spot, with capricious sea breezes that can quickly ruin a card.

Smith will beware of the challenge of two-time course winner Cink, but also the hungry Englishman Matt Wallace and the current PGA Championship title holder Collin Morikawa who share third on 6-under.

Let's take a close look at what Smith said about his round before discovering that Harbour Town's famous lighthouse has often failed to guide the first round leader safely home.

Smith on the state of his physical and mental game

"Everything just came together. A great day on the greens and I was hitting my irons really well. Hit lots of irons close and, when I missed one, I missed in the right spots. Not a lot of stress out there.

"I just feel really comfortable and mentally very free out there. Feels like I can hit the shot that I need to hit, like every shot I'm hitting, I'm putting 100% into it, and on a day like today, it's really rewarding."

On nearly holing out for an eagle-2 at the 18th hole

"Flushed my 3-wood down there and had a perfect 9-iron number. It was just one of those days, I guess, where there wasn't really lots of in-between shots, so I could be really aggressive into the greens. Everything I had today was kind of like a perfect number, and I think that's why I hit so many good golf shots."

On the condition of Harbour Town, his relationship with it and the contrast with Augusta National

"It's perfect. You really can't fault it. The ball is running out a long way, so if you're on the fairway, you've got a lot of opportunities into the green, and that's maybe why we saw some low scores this afternoon.

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"This place really gets my creativity going into the greens. There's a couple of holes out there where you really have to shape it into the greens around trees, and if you're in a bad spot off the tee, you just have to know where to miss it, especially with how firm the greens are.

"After last week I feel like chipping around here is almost like a breeze. I was so scared almost last week on every chip shot, but feel like I can be really aggressive around here."

Smith's numbers

He's never been in better, or more consistent, form on the PGA Tour: his last 10 strokeplay events have reaped nine top 25 finishes, six of them T11th or better.

His four strokeplay results coming into this week were: T4th at Riviera, T11th at The Concession, T17th at TPC Sawgrass and T10th at Augusta National.

The fly in the ointment is a bizarrely regressive course record: T15th on debut in 2015, T29th two years later, T32nd in 2018 and two missed cuts since then.

It's interesting that he believes that the second shots at Harbour Town fire his mind (see above) because he's never gained strokes on the field in SG Approach and, as Justin Ray notes, that hasn't changed this week:

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He is, however, on track for career-best number in the other categories (and in traditional stats), albeit from a small sample so far.

A concern? He averaged 68.80 in round one ahead of this week and has obviously improved on that, but he also averages 71.40 in the second round and has three times out of five failed to break par on Friday.

He's never once gone lower in the second lap than the first so if he breaks that trend this week he'll be in the box seat!

First round leaders at Harbour Town

The number indicate that this is a difficult track to protect an early lead.

In the 21st century 32 men have owned or shared the Thursday night lead and only three have converted the win: Peter Lonard in 2005, Matt Kuchar in 2014 and Branden Grace in 2016.

Incredibly (really, genuinely, rather incredibly), all three carded big scores in round two before pulling themselves back into the battle at the weekend.

Lonard went 62-74-66-75, a rollercoaster ride that saw him take a two shot lead, fall six back, grab the lead again and double it despite posting 4-over on Sunday!

Kuchar scored 66-73-70-64, going from a share of the lead to T7th after 54 holes before passing everyone on Sunday.

Grace also opened with a 66 to tie the lead, added a 74 that left him T21st, but closed 69-66 for a two shot victory.

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Of those 32 first round leaders, only three maintained their position and 11 fell out of the top 10 (six of those out of the top 20).

Smith himself has held only two first round leads, both solo and both in Asia.

The first was the 2014 Asia-Pacific Open on the Japan Tour - he led by two, shot 74 in round two and finished tied ninth.

The second was the Asian and PGA Tour co-sanctioned CIMB Classic in 2017 when he held a one shot advantage, responded with a 71 and ended the week tied fifth.

Conclusion

Course history, and Smith's own past, suggest that he'll need to graft in round two.

Paddy Power rate him an 11/4 shot and that's tight. Moreover, it's entirely possible that if you like his chances he will be a bigger price at some point later in the week.

He's also 8/11 to win his round two three-ball. Is the value with 12/5 Sebastian Munoz (72 in round one) or 7/2 Tyler Duncan (71)?

Nine of the last 10 winners were at least two blows back of the lead at this stage and five of them were four or five shots back. In other words, there are still plenty in with a chance.

Daniel Berger, five back after a 67, is priced 14/1.

He has a progressive course record (T72nd-T33rd-T3rd) and has a solid second round history too: 68-69-69.

Morikawa is 11/2 and Wallace 16/1.

READ MORE: PGA champ Collin Morikawa gets first look at Kiawah ahead of Heritage bid

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