JEJU ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA : Jason Day’s attempt to impress International team captain Ernie Els for a spot at the Presidents Cup took a positive turn on Thursday when the Australian shot a 6-under 66 to sit two strokes off the lead after the opening round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges.
In the first event of a three-tournament PGA Tour swing through Asia, Byeong Hun An took the lead with a 64 with Joaquin Niemann a stroke behind in second. Day was alone in third place.
Day is hoping Els will choose him as a captain’s pick for the International team against the Tiger Woods-captained US team in December at Royal Melbourne.
“Overall, it’s a great start,” Day said. “I’m excited for the rest of the week.”
He said before his first round that he was still hoping for a Presidents Cup spot.
“It is certainly disappointing not to make the team on my own merits. But it is a reminder that nothing is given to you in this game,” Day said.
“I certainly want to be on the team and believe I can be an asset to the Internationals. Being in my home country certainly gives me an edge and I’ve had some success on the sand-belt (courses) and Royal Melbourne in the past.”
Defending champion Brooks Koepka shot a 69 with an eagle on the 18th, his final hole. Last year’s runner-up Gary Woodland had a 71.
Justin Thomas, who won the inaugural 2017 CJ Cup, shot 68 and Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth each shot 70. Spieth is looking to end a lengthy drought — he hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, a span of 54 tournaments worldwide.
“Overall a good way to start. I felt I played a lot better than my score,” Thomas said. “Anytime you play where you’ve won before, it creates a lot of good memories.”
Kevin Na, who won in a playoff in Las Vegas two weeks ago, had a 72 and Sergio Garcia shot 73.
There are 78 players in the no-cut, limited-field event.
The top-ranked Koepka stirred some controversy on Wednesday when he pointed out that Rory McIlroy, his closest challenger for the No. 1 ranking, has not won a major since the American joined the PGA Tour in 2015. He was responding to a question about a rivalry between the pair.
“I’m not looking at anybody behind me. I’m No. 1 in the world,” Koepka said. “I’ve got open road in front of me. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, so I don’t see it as a rivalry. I’ve been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour.”