Washington, May 5, 2022 (AFP) -Australia's Jason Day, chasing his first US PGA title in four years, fired a seven-under par 63 to seize the lead after Thursday's opening round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
The 34-year-old Aussie carded eight birdies against a lone bogey to top the leaderboard by one stroke over American Joel Dahmen at TPC Potomac at Avenel in suburban Washington.
"I feel like things are progressing nicely," Day said. "I have to just put my head down and keep going."
A third-place pack on 65 included English rookies Aaron Rai and Callum Tarren, who matched their lowest PGA rounds, France's Paul Barjon and Americans Matthew Wolff and Denny McCarthy.
The course is hosting a PGA event for the first time since 2018 as a one-off because Quail Hollow, the regular site in Charlotte for the Wells Fargo, is hosting this year's Presidents Cup in September.
World number 127 Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner, seeks his 12th US PGA title and his first since the 2018 Wells Fargo, having stayed healthy lately after years of nagging back issues.
"It's actually very encouraging," Day said. "Typically if I play well then people ask me how my back is. That's probably not something you want to always be constantly talking about."
"So I've done a lot of work. I've been very diligent and disciplined in my approach to staying healthy. I get hiccups every now and then but for the most part, touch wood, I've been really good."
Day credited creative coaching approaches, saying, "at some point, you have to get out of the technical aspect and go more creative."
But he also admits that when it comes to matching his major-winning from from seven years ago, "I'm a long way away from being that confident in myself in regards to my game."
Day opened with back-to-back birdies, birdied from about five feet at the fifth and 10th holes and rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-3 12th to grab a share of the lead.
But Day's approach at the 13th found a false front and rolled off the green to set up his lone bogey.
Day responded by reeling off three birdies in a row to grab the lead, dropping his approach to three feet at the par-4 12th and making the putt, then chipping in for birdie from 31 feet at the par-4 15th and adding a 12-footer at the 16th.
I played some good golf out there," Day said.
Dahmen birdied six of the first eight holes, his longest putt a 27-foot effort at the par-4 seventh with three others from about 11 feet. He took his only bogey at 11 after missing the fairway but answered with a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.
Four-time major winner and defending champion Rory McIlroy made seven birdies against two bogeys and a double bogey to join the pack on 67.
"First week back after three weeks off, there's maybe going to be a couple of mistakes in there," McIlroy said. "Seven birdies around this place is really good. This is one of those courses. It doesn't take much to make a mistake.
"I left a couple out there. I'm still pretty happy with 67. It could have been a 65 or a 64, but it's still a good start."
Spain's Sergio Garcia holed out from 161 yards for eagle at the 15th, his longest PGA hole-out since 2012 at Riviera, in shooting 67.
But he drew global attention for an angry comment after a one-stroke penalty for a lost ball, objecting to what he considered an early start to his three-minute search clock.
Garcia seemed to indicate he was planning to drop the PGA Tour for the rival LIV Golf circuit, which debuts next month in London.
"I can't wait to leave this tour," Garcia said after the penalty. "Can't wait to get out of here.
"Just a couple more weeks until I don't have to deal with you any more."
Garcia reportedly is among the players who have asked the PGA for a release to play in the London event.
63 - Jason Day (AUS)
64 - Joel Dahmen
65 - Matthew Wolff, Denny McCarthy, Aaron Rai (ENG), Callum Tarren (ENG), Paul Barjon (FRA)
66 - Lee Kyoung-hoon (KOR), Nick Watney, Adam Svensson (CAN), Rickie Fowler, Stewart Cink, Wesley Bryan, James Hahn, Mackenzie Hughes (CAN), Dylan Wu