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Aussies lead PGA charge to send aid for bushfire relief

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith are among the Australian golfers who have launched a campaign at this week's US PGA Sony Open in Hawaii to benefit relief efforts for the bushfire crisis devastating their homeland.

Leishman and Smith, who just played Down Under last month in the Presidents Cup at Melbourne, will donate money for their every birdie and eagle this week at Honolulu's Wai'alae Country Club, a pledge matched by other Aussies as well.

"The devastation caused in this unprecedented national crisis in Australia is just terrible," Leishman said. "There have been lives lost and around 2,000 families have lost homes, not to mention the catastrophic damage to the unique wildlife in the country.

"The communities across the nation have shown tremendous spirit in the face of such adversity and it's the least we can do to try to help out."

Australian Open winner Matt Jones and fellow Aussies Cameron Davis, Cameron Percy and Rhein Gibson also joined in launching the fundraising initiative at the year's first full-field US PGA tournament.

"Hard to believe what is happening down under," Gibson tweeted. "Happy to help where I can. Let's get around this and help as much as we can. From lives and houses lost to our beautiful flora and fauna it's absolutely devastating."

The US PGA Tour and Presidents Cup will match funds raised by any player this week up to $125,000.

"It's heartwarming and comes as no surprise to see our players lend their support for the current crisis," Presidents Cup executive director Matt Kamienski said. "Our thoughts are with those who have experienced a loss during this time and we thank those who continually raise their hand to fight these bushfires."

More than 28,000 square miles (7.3 million hectares) have been burned across Australia with multiple fires still blazing. Thousands of homes have been destroyed with at least 24 people dead and half a billion animals impacted.

"This is a global crisis and a cause close to my heart," Leishman said.

Leishman, who plays alongside Joaquin Niemann and Lanto Griffin in Thursday and Friday's opening rounds, will donate $500 a birdie and $1,000 per eagle to the relief effort with supporters boosting that total to over $800 a birdie and $2,000 for an eagle.

Leishman's foundation will match general donations up to $5,000.

Smith pledged $500 a birdie and $1,000 an eagle to combat a crisis that saw his uncle from Tumbarumba, near Canberra, lose his home, horses, tractors and most of his farm to the blazes before relocating to Smith's home in Florida.

"People all over Australia are doing it tough at the moment and if we can help in some small way hopefully that keeps some of the morale a little higher," Smith said.

"Aussies are resilient people and the scenes of how everyone has come together in awful circumstances shows why I am so proud to be Australian.

"But this goes beyond a nation's borders. This is a crisis that could use widespread global support. I am sure our PGA Tour community will rally around this."

- Revamped Lahiri opens 2020 -

The Honolulu event also marks the first 2020 start for India's Anirban Lahiri, who has made major equipment changes and rebuilt his workout routine entering the new year.

"My main target is to get back into contention more frequently and just try and keep knocking on the door, which is the only way to break through," Lahiri said. "I want to get more consistent this year. The last season and a half, I've not really contended."

Lahiri has not won since 2015 and his best finish in 112 US PGA starts was second at the 2017 Memorial tournament.

US star Jordan Spieth withdrew from the Hawaii event due to illness and now plane to begin the year January 23 at Torrey Pines.

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