SYDNEY — Defending champion Jordan Spieth struggled in gusty afternoon winds Thursday at the Australian Open, while Jason Day took advantage of more calm morning conditions.
The result was that the tournament’s marquee players were overshadowed by first-round leader Cameron Davis, who shot an 8-under 63 at The Australian Golf Club.
That left Day, making his first competitive appearance in his home country since 2013, three strokes behind after a 66. Spieth was seven strokes behind after shooting 70.
Spieth, who bogeyed his first two holes and appeared to be out of sorts for most of his round, is trying to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years.
Taylor MacDonald was two strokes behind fellow Australian Davis and alone in second place, while two other Australians, Nick Cullen and Alex Edge, were level with Day at 5-under, tied for third.
All but two of the leading 18 players had morning tee times.
Spieth said he was rusty after a lengthy break.
“It was a bit inconsistent,” Spieth said. “But I had five bogeys, and to still shoot under par is really good. There was a bit of good there after a rough start.”
An indication of the state of Spieth’s play came on the par-5 14th hole when his approach went wide and under a large advertising sign. Spieth and a course worker moved the sign, then Spieth hit his short wedge into a bunker. After blasting out to about seven feet, he missed the putt and made bogey.
Matt Jones, the 2015 champion playing in Spieth’s group, picked up some of the American’s bad luck. He bogeyed three holes in a row and then got chased by a duck coming up the 16th fairway before finishing with a 71.
Spieth missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 16th, hit into the fairway bunker on the 17th and put his approach through the green, but scrambled to make par. He finished on a good note, though, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.
“I was a little anxious to get started, my short game was a bit rusty,” Spieth said. “But I started to pick it up and it was pretty good from there.”
Spieth should be able to take advantage of expected calmer conditions in his morning round on Friday.
“There were tremendous scoring conditions this morning which we’re hoping to see in the morning tomorrow, so I’ve got to go out and take advantage and move up the board,” he said. “Those guys will get what we had this afternoon and it’ll certainly be more difficult, so being seven back isn’t really seven back, given the difference in the waves.”
Day’s round came unhinged late with a double-bogey six on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn’t get up and down.
“That was brutal,” Day said of the 440-meter hole. He recovered quickly, however, to birdie his last hole.
The Ohio-based Day appeared to enjoy being back in Australia, posing for selfies with fans and signing autographs after his round.
“It was a pretty solid round, I didn’t miss many fairways, I didn’t miss many greens,” Day said. “I’d give myself a seven or eight out of 10. I think it’s definitely out there to shoot a deep one, but that’s kind of the thing, you almost need to come out and capitalize when there’s no wind.”
The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.
“Everything went to plan,” Davis said. “I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.”
NOTES: Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 172-meter 11th, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day … 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir shot 77 … Day’s mother, Dening, who is recovering from lung cancer surgery, followed him around the course. “It’s great to see her out and looking healthy, because at the start of the year it didn’t look so well. I haven’t been able to play in front of her a lot as a professional … so it would be really nice to be able to try and win this one for her.”