Jason Day 'pretty happy' despite late stumble at Sawgrass

Jason Day 'pretty happy' despite late stumble at Sawgrass

Defending champion Jason Day shrugged off a poor finish to his opening round as he targeted an achievement 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.

"To be honest I'm not that disappointed," Day told Sky Sports. "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.

"It would be nice to be the first in history (to win back-to-back), but it's day one, it's going to be hot tomorrow and play tough the next three days, so I just have to slowly inch my way up the leader board and hopefully be in there Sunday."

Day's victory at Sawgrass 12 months ago was his seventh in 17 events, but he has recorded just one top-10 finish in 2017, although his form has been badly affected by his mother's battle with lung cancer.

The former US PGA champion broke down in tears after withdrawing from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, just six holes into his opening match.

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.

"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," Day added.

"The desire is starting to come back to try to reach the top again. A few distractions earlier this year kind of derailed that a little bit which is understandable, I had to be there with my mum, and now I'm ready to focus on my golf."

After starting on the back nine, Day had 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 clubhouse leader William McGirt, who eagled the 11th and 16th in his 67.

"It's one of those places that kind of frustrates you to death and it frustrates me every time I walk on the property," admitted McGirt, whose previous best finish in the event is a tie for 43rd.

"I went with the 'less-is-more' approach this year. I played nine holes on Sunday, nine on Monday and then flew to Columbus for a media day on Tuesday (ahead of his title defence in the Memorial Tournament) and then played nine holes yesterday (Wednesday)."

McGirt enjoyed a one-shot lead over compatriot JB Holmes and Sweden's Alex Noren, with Italy's Francesco Molinari and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen part of a large group on three under.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy were among the later starters and Garcia had just four players below him on the leaderboard after taking 40 shots to cover the front nine.

That included a double bogey after four-putting the fifth, the same hole the 2008 champion six-putted in the third round last year.

McIlroy, who is playing his first tournament since getting married and signing a multi-million euro equipment deal with TaylorMade, was level par after two bogeys and two birdies on the front nine.

Playing partner Dustin Johnson was also level par, the world number one following a bogey on the first with a birdie on the fourth.

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