RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico (AP) — Chris Smith is 18 holes away from one of the more amazing recoveries on the PGA Tour.
Smith’s life was upended and his career derailed when his wife was killed in a car accident in Indiana on Father’s Day in 2009. The accident also critically injured his two children. He spent a long time trying to patch together his life and his game.
On Saturday, the 45-year-old Smith had a 4-under 68 and joined Scott Brown in a tie for the lead at the wind-swept Puerto Rico Open.
“I’m starting to get comfortable playing golf again, which is nice, and it’s fun,” Smith said. “All three days have been fun. I’m just trying to keep taking steps. I feel like I’m taking steps.”
Brown, who won the Puerto Rico Open two years ago, birdied the final two holes for a 67 at Trump International-Puerto Rico.
They were at 6-under 2010.
Smith last had a full PGA Tour card in 2005 and was playing what is now the Web.com Tour when his wife was killed. He has since remarried. His two children are doing well. The golf remains a struggle. Smith has trouble getting into tournaments without status on any tour. He has played no more than 10 tournaments a season since 2009.
He has limited status as a past champion, winning the Buick Classic at Westchester in 2002.
The Puerto Rico Open is opposite a World Golf Championship at Doral, giving Smith a rare opportunity. So far, he’s making the most of it.
“It’s one of the only weeks of the year that I know I’m going to get in, so I can kind of mentally prepare for playing for it,” Smith said. “When I get here, it’s not like getting in Tuesday night and then trying to hustle to the tournament and then playing.”
Brown has good feelings from his only PGA Tour win in Puerto Rico two years ago.
“Got a few more putts to go in today and ended up shooting a good round,” Brown said. “The wind died just a little bit for us this afternoon. Putting has been tough early in the week with the wind blowing as hard as it’s been. It’s still blowing around a little bit, tough to get it close.”
PGA Tour rookie Jon Curran and Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo were a stroke back. Curran had a 70, and Grillo shot 72.
Second-round leader Alex Cejka dropped four strokes on the final four holes to fall into a tie for fifth at 4 under. He finished with a 75, making bogeys on the par-5 15th and par-4 17th and a double bogey on the par-5 18th.
Canada’s Adam Hadwin (68) also was 4 under along with Scott Pinckney (71), Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge (71) and Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti (69)
“The toughest thing about this course is it’s all cross-winds, so you very rarely get any downwind or into-the-wind shots,” Brown said. “It’s all quarter in or across. That’s what makes it so tough. It’s really just guesswork. It’s guessing on how much you think it’s going to move it. The wind has been so strong that you can’t really play shots that hold up against it. You’ve just kind of got to let the wind do what it does.”
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