The crowd came to see Jason Day make his first appearance at the Emirates Australian Open in four years, but it was a 22-year-old rookie who stole the first-round lead at The Australian Golf Club.
Young Sydneysider Cameron Davis birdied his opening two holes and backed it up with four consecutive birdies from the fourth to the seventh, before posting an 8-under 63.
Queenslander Taylor Macdonald is outright second after shooting a six-under 65. Day and former Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen were tied for third on 66.
Tournament favourite and world No.2 Jordan Spieth sank a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to card a respectable 0ne-under 71 in the trickier afternoon conditions. After bogeying his first two holes, the American bounced back with six birdies to be T-27.
Playing partner Cameron Smith, third favourite at the start of the tournament, shot one better than Spieth to be at two-under 69 and T-18.
Meanwhile, the man they all came to see didn’t disappoint. In the absence of Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, Day signed off on a 66 to be well placed heading into day two.
“I made a couple of mistakes out there with some swings, but made, I think, eight birdies, which was nice and a good start to the week,” Day said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the next few days. I’ll get some rest tonight and get back into it tomorrow.”
The world No.12 admits he was blown away by the support he received out on the course.
“It was amazing. Sydney crowds are usually pretty big, but it was a good size today. It was nice to be able to play well in front of them too, because obviously that’s why they pay the money, to come here and watch good golf.”
Day was buoyed by the presence of his mother, Dening, among the large galleries that accompanied his morning round. It would mean a lot to win the Open for his Mum, who underwent surgery for lung cancer earlier this year.
“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. She’s seen one of my wins with the World Cup, so it would be really nice to be able to try and win this one for her.”
Ideal weather for scoring and a little local knowledge helped Davis stun the field early on – the Monash Golf Club junior won the 2015 Australian Amateur Championship around Jack Nicklaus’ redesigned brute.
With some minor changes made to the course, including the lengthening of some holes and bunker changes, Davis’ 63 may well stand as a new course record, although this is still to be confirmed by tournament officials.
“I know the golf course well. I didn’t have to think too hard around my practice round, so I feel like I had a good chance this week,” said Davis who is off to the final qualifying stage of the Web.com Tour in a couple of weeks.
“I’ve had rounds of golf like this before but not in tournaments. I’m just going to treat it like any other round and try to play my best golf and see where it puts me at the end of the tournament, which is hopefully at the top.
“With a start like this, I feel like if I can keep on doing what I’m doing, I’ll be right up there come Sunday.”
Davis is more than capable of contending on Sunday afternoon. Just last year he was a member of Australia’s victorious side that captured the biennial World Amateur Team Championship by a whopping 19 strokes in Mexico. Davis was the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60s as he posted the individual low aggregate of 17-under par at a venue that hosts a regular US PGA Tour event.
Shot of the day honours belonged to New Zealand’s Brad Shilton, who collected a TAG Heuer timepiece valued at $16,300 after becoming the first player to score a hole-in-one on the 11th. On his second hole of the tournament, Shilton’s 5-iron tee shot found the bottom of the cup at the 172-metre par 3. He receives a Rose Gold TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 01.