Date: November 23, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

DAY 1 WRAP: Davis leads, crowds flock to Open


All the elements of what could potentially be a great golf tournament emerged on cue for the Emirates Australian Open today. A bright, young local star shot a dazzling 63 to seize the lead, Jason Day played beautifully to put himself in the mix, and he and world No. 2 Jordan Spieth drew big crowds to The Australian on a perfect day.

After a lead-up that included some commentary about the strength of the field, the storied Open has held its head up high and proud in its 102nd edition.

Sydney’s Cameron Davis, 22, a first-year professional out of the Monash Golf Club on the north shore of the harbour, had the day of his life, rolling in nine birdies in his opening 63, eight-under par, hitting the lead on the front nine and holding on for the rest of the day.

Davis leads by two shots from another young Australian pro, Queenslander Taylor McDonald, who had a 65. World No. 12 Day began with a 66 to be a further shot back in a tie for third with Nick Cullen, Day having to regret a double bogey at the difficult, par-four eighth hole that blemished what was otherwise a cracking performance.

Spieth, the world No. 2 and twice champion in this tournament, began with a rusty one-under 70 but he had to endure the far tougher afternoon conditions, when the scoring was a couple of shots higher across the board.

Davis is a monumental talent; this has been well known since he emerged through the elite programs of Golf New South Wales to win the 2015 Australian Amateur at this course and become part of a winning Eisenhower Cup in Mexico in 2016. Today he birdied six of the first seven holes in the pristine early-morning conditions, before the winds came, with a chip-in at the seventh.

Even a bogey at the ninth saw him out in 30. By the time he reached the 18th green he had a long eagle putt that would have given him a 62; he left his putt short but tapped in for birdie and a 63. He had just 25 putts for the day.

Tall at 190 centimetres with plenty of power, his penchant for hitting left-handed with an equally-good golf swing as his regular motion has earned him a modicum of fame in the industry.  But hardly anyone could have seen this coming; he missed the cut at the NSW Open last week after a disappointing first season on the Canadian Tour where he could not conjure a finish in the top 15.

“I’d just come off a tournament overseas in America, so I knew there was some good golf around the corner, but I just had to kind of work my way through last week and then this week and then start again really,’’ he said.  “But I knew the golf course well, I didn’t have to think too hard around my practice round, so I felt like I had a good chance this week.’’

Davis said he had drawn some positives from his first year away from home. “My golf wasn’t that great, but I learnt so much on that Tour, the travel, how to deal with professional golf, what level of golf you need to play to compete.  It was a big step up from the amateur golf, you know, shooting even par at an amateur tournament you’re doing all right, you’re not going to drop too far off, but even par in a tournament like that and you’re dropping straight down the leaderboard.  So, it was good to get into a good insight into what level of golf you have to play just to compete and make the cut. 

“Just figuring out how to manage yourself while you’re on the road, all those little things.  I’d say even though I didn’t keep my card and I didn’t play that great, it was a success because I learnt so much and I’m going to be able to use that for the years to come.’’

Day started on the back nine in the best of the conditions and capitalised with two early birdies from close range, turned in 33 and birdied the ninth, his last of the day to reach five-under. His only big error was a pulled tee shot at the eighth that left him blocked out, leading to a double bogey.

The Australian was playing in his home Open for the first time since 2013 and the crowds embraced him; they were five deep even early in the morning, and he fed off the energy. “Such an exciting first day,’’ he said.  “I came in early this morning and I could hardly get through the front gates; the people were coming in. For an early start the crowd that you had is fantastic, and you played that way.’’

His mother Dening, who had treatment for cancer earlier this year, was in the gallery, which was a bonus. “It reminds me of the old times when she used to watch me,’’ said Day.  “I’m just glad I played good enough, so she didn’t have to walk off the golf course again. She can be a little hard sometimes, but that’s what got me to the position I’m in today. 

“Her being strict and hard on me forced me to do the right things off the course and obviously getting prepared for playing tournaments and that’s the reason why I prepare the way I do today. It’s great to see her out and looking healthy because at the start of the year it didn’t look so well, and I haven’t been able to play in front of her a lot as a professional."