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Golf

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Smith makes sound start in PGA quest

Cameron Smith says sightseeing trips into New York City are keeping him relaxed as he begins a difficult quest to keep his US PGA Tour season alive.

Smith faces a tough week to stay in the US PGA Tour's $US78.5 million FedEx Cup play-offs but improved his chances with a hot first round at the Northern Trust - the finals opener in New Jersey.

The 25-year-old Queenslander mixed five birdies with a bogey during a four-under-par 67 at Liberty National to sit five shots behind first-round leader Troy Merritt.

Merritt equalled the course record with a stunning 62.

At nine under, he leads former world No.1 Dustin Johnson (63) by one shot while major winners Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson (65) are also in the hunt.

At 79th on the FedEx Cup standings, Smith needs a hot result at the Northern Trust to climb into the top 70 who advance to next week's BMW Championship, the second of three finals events.

"It's a kick in the butt, knowing I have to play well the next two weeks," Smith told AAP at Liberty National, which sits just across the Hudson River from New York City.

After the BMW, the play-offs are cut to 30 players who qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship.

Making the Tour Championship guarantees contestants starts in all four majors next year without relying on world rankings.

There is a lot at stake for Smith, but the Brisbane native says being able to frequent one of his favourite US cities is a welcomed distraction.

"I love New York City; we went into Manhattan for dinner last night and really like the vibe," Smith told AAP.

"I always seem to play my best golf when I'm relaxed off the course and I feel I can do that here."

Smith is tied at four under with fellow Australian Matt Jones (67), while Adam Scott (68) is a shot behind.

But Australians Jason Day (72) and Marc Leishman (73) struggled on day one, while Aaron Baddeley withdrew citing a back injury and is now out of the play-offs.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, who has finished second in both times the Northern Trust was last held at Liberty National, struggled during a sloppy 75 which dropped him to four over.

--End of article--

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