Written by
Mark Lamport-Stokes, LIV Golf Correspondent
Mar 11 2024
- 5 MIN
C Smith HK recap

HONG KONG – It was a case of so close but so far for Ripper GC on a rain-swept Sunday as the all-Australian combination had to settle for third place at LIV Golf Hong Kong after a dramatic final round of fluctuating fortunes.

With just three holes to go in challenging conditions, the Rippers remained in top spot but Matt Jones and Marc Leishman both made faltering finishes while Crushers GC players Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau stormed to the finish line to clinch a come-from-behind victory for their team.

There was also personal disappointment for Rippers captain Cameron Smith, who came agonizingly close to becoming the first LIV golfer to win four individual titles, but instead he lost out in a playoff for the second time as Fireballs GC's Abraham Ancer prevailed.

As the race for team glory tightened in afternoon rain, Jones bogeyed his penultimate hole, the par-4 18th, for a closing 71 on the par-70 Fanling Course and Leishman finished bogey-bogey to card a 69 for the Rippers to slip back into third place at 32-under.

In stark contrast, Casey birdied his final hole, the par-4 16th, and his captain DeChambeau ended up eagle-birdie-par-par as the Crushers wrapped up team honors (for a second week in a row) with a winning total of 35-under. Torque GC wound up in second at 33-under.

While the way the tournament ended was unquestionably tough to handle for the Rippers after they had contended for most of the day, at least they were able to celebrate their first podium finish this season.

"The boys are pretty gutted about the finish there," said Smith, who signed off with a 4-under 66 before losing in a three-way playoff. "I think a lot of stuff happened really late. But again, it's a step in the right direction. This is a golf course that we really love, so a bit disappointing not to have the win. But an improvement."

It was certainly an improvement for the Rippers after they had started the season with fourth place in Mayakoba before finishing a disappointing 10th out of 13 in Las Vegas and then ending up ninth last week in Jeddah.

They will now be looking to regain the consistency they produced last year when they delivered a team win in Bedminster, a runner-up spot in London and five other top-seven finishes in 13 regular-season starts.

For Smith, the week in Hong Kong was a very encouraging one after he had made a slow start to 2024. Last year, he won twice in 13 LIV Golf starts while notching up four other top-10s to wind up second in the overall standings. However, prior to Hong Kong he had failed to spark consistently - mainly due to ongoing problems off the tee.

In his first three LIV Golf outings, the 30-year-old Australian tied for eighth at LIV Golf Mayakoba in Mexico, shared 15th place at LIV Golf Las Vegas and then struggled in windy conditions to end up joint 41st at LIV Golf Jeddah.

All that changed, though, on the Fanling Course which has long been one of Smith's favorite layouts in the world and where he finished runner-up in last year's Hong Kong Open.

After opening with a 67, he followed up with a 64 and then closed with a 66 before he and Casey lost out to Ancer on the first playoff hole.

"It was a step in the right direction this week" said Smith, who went into the final round in Hong Kong six strokes off the pace. "Played some really patient golf over the weekend. A lot different than the first few weeks."

Smith's bid for victory in Hong Kong effectively ended when his approach shot on the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, landed in a greenside bunker, giving him very little chance after Ancer had hit his second shot close to the pin to set up an easy birdie.

"Just right in between numbers," Smith replied, when asked about his approach. "Had to hit a perfect shot. That's kind of the shot I've been struggling with."

Three-times DP World Tour winner Lucas Herbert tied for 15th in Hong Kong after closing with a 67, Jones tied for 21st and Leishman shared 29th spot. Leishman ended the week ranked joint first for driving accuracy with Kevin Na, after hitting 35 of 42 fairways.