Thursday 26 April 2018

Day upbeat despite late Players stumble

The Players Championship, Live, Sky Sports, 6.0pm

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the eighth hole during his first round of one-over-par 73 at The Players Championship at Sawgrass. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy plays a shot from a bunker on the eighth hole during his first round of one-over-par 73 at The Players Championship at Sawgrass. Photo: Getty

Phil Casey

Jason Day suffered a late stumble as he started his bid to achieve something which proved beyond the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus.

Since the inception of the Players Championship in 1974 no player has successfully defended the title, with only six managing to win the prestigious event more than once. Day's prospects of creating history looked bright when he played his first 11 holes in five-under par, but the 29-year-old Australian bogeyed three of his last four holes and had to settle for an opening 70.

The world number three has recorded just one top-10 finish in 2017 and has fallen more than five points behind world number one Dustin Johnson in the rankings, although his form has been affected by his mother's battle with lung cancer.

Withdrawing

The former US PGA champion broke down in tears after withdrawing from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, the defending champion having played just six holes of his opening match against Pat Perez.

Two days later his mother Dening successfully underwent surgery to remove a "three-to-four-centimetre" mass in her lungs and Day returned to action in the Masters, finishing in a tie for 22nd at Augusta National.

After starting on the back nine at Sawgrass, Day birdied the 11th, 13th and 16th to reach the turn in 33, before holing from 65ft across the first green.

Another birdie on the second took him into the outright lead, only for dropped shots on the sixth, eighth and ninth to leave him three shots behind leaders William McGirt - who eagled the 11th and 16th - and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes after their pair of 67s.

Despite the poor finish, Day was upbeat. "To be honest I'm not that disappointed. I played some good golf.

"Six, eight and nine were the only bad holes I played and they weren't really that bad, but the rest of the game was pretty solid so I'm pretty happy with it.

"I'm just trying to gain some confidence, get back to working on the right things, doing the right things off the course that will hopefully produce the results on the course," he told Sky Sports.

It was a difficult day for the game's other leading lights. Rory McIlroy carded two double bogyes on his back nine but birdies on 12, 16 and 18 - after a monster putt - added some gloss to his first round score of one-over par 73. It was one shot better than Shane Lowry, who finished well after picking up shots on 16 and 17.

McIlroy's playing partner Dustin Johnson endured a mixed bag but an eagle three on the 16th hole helped him just sneak under par.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia recorded another memorable moment with a hole-in-one on the iconic par-three 17th, but had to settle for a 73.

Graeme McDowell shot a one-under 71, while Ian Poulter carded a level-par 72. After eight holes of near-perfect golf, the Englishman's round promised so much. Starting on the 10th, there were birdies on that opening par-four, the 16th and the 17th. The highlight was his tee-shot on the 17th.

"I thought it might go in," Poulter said. "It finished about eight inches away. It was pretty good stuff on that first nine and, although I would have liked to have finished under par, the game's great.

There was a day when three bogeys in the last four holes would have sent Poulter into a rage. Older and wiser, he knows that patience is now key as he seeks to resurrect his career.

Irish Independent

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