‘We can win this’: Day likes Aussie Open hopes
It's Australia's smallest British Open contingent in almost half a century, but Jason Day says don't rule out the prospect of the Claret Jug finally returning Down Under.
Day and fellow US PGA Tour stars Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith headline Australia's six-strong challenge at Royal Portrush, with rookies Jake McLeod and Dimi Papadatos making their major championship debuts.
Not since 1970 has Australia had fewer starters at golf's oldest open championship.
But with major winners and former No. 1s Day and Scott along with 2015 runner-up Leishman all ranked inside the world's top 25, they reckon it's quality not quantity that counts most in the quest to break Australia's 26-year Open title drought.
A rejuvenated Day, with esteemed caddie Steve Williams carrying his bag, is confident he and his countrymen can be in the thick of things come the back nine on the final day.
"It would be a great thing for Australian golf to be able to contend," Day said.
"If it's not me, then someone else.
"But obviously I've been working very hard to try to come in and play well."
"So I think we have a small group of guys here who can definitely compete, if not win, which is nice."
Leishman is a proven Open thoroughbred with three top-six finishes in his past five starts, but he admits he needs to change pace to reach the winning post first.
A lover of links golf having grown up honing his skills on Melbourne's famous sandbelt courses, Leishman has emerged as Australia's most consistent contender for the Claret Cup in recent years.
Aussie tee times for first round
- All times EST
- 6.58pm: ADAM SCOTT, Francesco Molinari (ITA), Bryson De Chambeau (USA) 8.58pm: DIMITRIOS PAPADATOS, Joel Dahlmen (USA), Adri Arnaus (ESP) 9.20pm: JAKE MCLEOD, Eric Van Rooyen (RSA), Kurt Kitiyama (USA) 10.26pm: MARC LEISHMAN, Jordan Spieth (USA), Danny Willett (ENG) 10.37pm: CAMERON SMITH, Adam Hadwin (CAN), David Lipsky (USA) 11.59pm: JASON DAY, Dustin Johnson (USA), Keegan Bradley (USA)
- OTHER NOTABLE GROUPINGS
- 7.09pm: Rory McIlroy (NIR), Gary Woodland (USA), Paul Casey (ENG) 10.04pm: Brooks Koepka (USA), Louis Ousthuizen (RSA), Shubhankar Sharma IND) 12.10am (Friday): Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed, Matt Wallace
The Victorian's run started in 2014, when he fired the equal-low final round of 65 to share fifth place with countryman Adam Scott at Royal Liverpool.
The following year Leishman carded weekend-best rounds of 64-66, an incredible 14-under-par combined, only to lose a three-man playoff at St Andrews to Zach Johnson.
Leishman also flew home in 2017 from Royal Birkdale with more weekend-low scores of 66-65 to finish joint sixth, but rued a horror second-round 76 that left him behind the eight-ball.
The world No. 24 wouldn't have even needed a playoff to win four years ago had he not gifted Johnson a six-stroke start with a labouring 70-73 opening to the championship and Leishman has not surprisingly nominated a fast start as the key to contending in 2019.
"It's just my style. I guess if I was a horse, I'd start from behind and sort of come home hard. But when I get off to a good start, that makes things easier," he said.
"It gives you a different mindset for the rest of the week.
"You're not having to go out and attack too much. You can play a bit smarter and plot your way around a bit more."