ATLANTA – Cameron Smith stayed in the news last week even when he wasn’t playing.
The world No. 2 and reigning Open champion, amid rampant speculation that he’ll join LIV Golf following the conclusion of the PGA Tour season, withdrew from the BMW Championship because of a lingering hip injury.
From the outside, at least, the timing of his withdrawal seemed coincidental, if not intentional. Smith was coming off an eventful FedExCup Playoff opener during which the Telegraph reported that he’d signed a deal for at least $100 million to join the Saudi-backed league.
Pressed by reporters, Smith offered little insight on his competitive future, deflecting but not denying the report.
His week in Memphis only got more dramatic: Only two shots behind heading into the final round, and on the verge of ascending to world No. 1 with a victory, the Australian was penalized two shots for taking an improper drop in the previous round. He tumbled out of the top 10, didn’t speak to the media and then announced a day later that he wouldn’t play the second leg to give his ailing hip more time to recover.
By skipping the BMW, Smith avoided the players-only meeting, led by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, that mapped out a new schedule for the Tour – a revamped slate highlighted by a dozen elevated events with massive purses – and increased incentives for the game’s needle-movers.
Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im were the only other top-20 players who weren’t in attendance at the meeting in Delaware.
Smith apparently wasn’t completely out of the loop, however. McIlroy said Wednesday that he spoke with Smith two days after The Open – to congratulate him on his triumph at St. Andrews, yes, but also to make sure Smith was “completely informed and know this is what’s coming down the pipeline. This is what you may be leaving behind.”
“I just don’t want people hearing information from one side and not from another,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s sort of been my whole thing this entire time. I’ve always said guys can do whatever they want; guys can make a decision they feel is best for themselves and their families. But I want guys to make decisions based on all of the facts.”
The timing of Smith’s reported signing hasn’t yet been specified, but he is expected to compete in the fourth LIV event, scheduled for next week outside Boston.
And the scenario exists that he could play there as the reigning FedExCup champion.
Smith said that his left hip has been bothering him for more than a year, but an MRI revealed that little could be done besides frequent treatment.
“There’s not really a cure or anything,” he said at East Lake. “Just maintain and tough through it.”
Smith said the issue causes soreness late in rounds and afterward, but he typically responds well to dry needling and stretching. The problem was exacerbated, he said, by the spongy zoysia fairways at TPC Southwind.
After missing the second event, Smith dropped from second to sixth in the points standings, meaning he will begin the Tour Championship at 4 under par, six shots back of leader Scottie Scheffler, with whom Smith is also competing for Tour Player of the Year.
“I took a bit of a hit last week, obviously, but I feel better for it,” Smith said. “I feel a bit fresher. But it’s a bit of an odd format this week – I think everybody’s got a chance at winning. You can’t really go out there and change your game plan because you’re six back. I view it as everyone is equal and let the week progress.”
Despite the constant chatter about his imminent departure from the Tour, Smith said that it hasn’t been difficult to block out the “outside noise” as he chases the $18 million first-place prize.
“There’s not too much, to be honest,” he said. “I just do my thing and hit one shot at a time. Like I’ve said all along, I’m just here to hit good shots and make putts.”