PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jason Day couldn’t wait to join world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 2 Jordan Spieth for Thursday’s start of The Players Championship.
He may have been depicted as the third wheel in their grouping, but he wasn’t interested in playing the role. Day was the first to reach the tee box for the opening shots, a good five minutes before McIlroy and Spieth arrived.
“I didn’t know if they were going to show up,” Day cracked. “They were running a little late.”
Day got himself in contention shooting 3-under 69, equaling McIlroy’s opening round. Spieth shot 75. Day said he made his score borrowing something from tennis great Roger Federer. (More on that later).
With conversation building over whether McIlroy and Spieth will become the game’s next great rivals, Day knew he was the afterthought in Thursday’s grouping.
“Everyone was like `Who is that guy, Andres Romero?’” Day said.
Day, 27, had an eventful day, scrambling his way around TPC Sawgrass. He hit just five fairways and 10 greens, usually a recipe for disaster on architect Pete Dye’s design. Day managed to keep his emotions in check thinking about tennis.
“I just kept thinking about Roger Federer, what would he do?” Day said. “I don't know if you guys notice, but every time, after a point, he's just kind of very level. He doesn't keep his head down all the time. He's kind of in his own little world, and then he's on to the next point. So that's kind of what I was trying to think of, just kind of mimic what he does.”
Day made a mess of the 18th, his ninth hole of the day. After pulling his tee shot left in the water, he re-teed and pushed his next drive way right, up on the side of a hill, where he had to punch through trees. He holed a 25-foot putt to make double bogey.
Day’s putter was his best club Thursday. He holed a pair of 40-foot birdies. He had 12 one-putts and needed just 24 putts overall.
“I've got to beat those guys, but I think the biggest thing is not beating myself,” Day said. “Today was an easy way to get myself out of the tournament, especially the way I was hitting it. I'm just trying to get myself into contention and hopefully give myself a shot at the tournament on Sunday.”