THE Australian contingent has made a strong start to the first event of 2017 with all four entrants in the Tournament of Champions signing for under par scores in Hawaii.
Veteran Rod Pampling leads the way after a 4-under 69 at The Plantation Course at Kapalua, the 47-year-old T7 alongside a group of three others including Thursday playing partner Pat Perez and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley posted credible 3-under rounds of 70 to be T12 while Greg Chalmers is a stroke further back after a 2-under 71 to be T19 in the 32 player field.
PGA Champion Jimmy Walker leads after a bogey free 8-under 65 which consisted of six birdies and an eagle, good enough for a two stroke advantage over fellow Americans Ryan Moore, Jim Herman and Justin Thomas.
PLAYER PROFILE JIMMY WALKER:
Only five players shot par or worse in predominantly good conditions on day one of the tournament which is reserved for winners of Tour events in the previous year.
World Number One Jason Day showed signs of rust early in his first competitive round since last September, a three putt bogey at the second an indication of his long layoff from the game.
But he righted the ship quickly with birdies at the fifth, eighth and ninth before a clumsy
chip at the par-3 11th halted his momentum.
He rallied with birdies at 13, 15 and 16 to get to 4-under for his round but a three putt bogey at the par-5 18th was a less than ideal way to finish.
“It was actually all right,” was the Queenslander’s brief assessment after his round. “Just didn't putt that great.
“I mean, I had two 3-putts, and that was pretty much it. I had one poor - 11 was a poor shot into the green and obviously didn't get up-and-down.
“It was pretty solid. I think I hit a lot of fairways. Hit a lot of greens. I'd like to obviously tighten it up over the next few days with regards to proximity, but after having three months, I think 3-under is pretty good.”
For leader Walker it could hardly have been a better day after some late season struggles following his maiden major win at the PGA Championship in July.
The 37-year-old admitted early in the week it was the driver that had proved costly in the back half of 2016 but a change in equipment has borne fruit in the first round of the new year.
Walker began experimenting with a shorter driver recently and put it in play in the first round in Hawaii.
“Last year I didn't drive it as well as I would have liked to have,” he said. “I just kind of got to thinking. It was just kind of an experiment.
“I decided to cut one (a driver) down and threw some tape on it and liked it. It looks weird and sometimes it feels a little weird on the golf course, but I've been playing with it for about three weeks at home.
“I've since had Titleist make me a new one at that length, and I've been enjoying hitting it.”
The proof was in the pudding for Walker who found 11 of 14 fairways for the round though in fairness, the driving zones at Kapalua are perhaps the widest on Tour.
“This is a tough golf course for that because it's such a big place and you want to just kill it, and I had to keep reminding myself today why I put it (the shorter driver) in and why I did it to hit the fairway, hit the middle fairway,” he said.
“Not that that's a huge task at this golf course. But places like next week are, and kind of the rest of the year.
“So I've enjoyed hitting it, and it's still taking a little getting used to.”
While Walker is comfortable giving up some distance in the search for more fairways World Number Two Dustin Johnson continues to impress with his game off the tee.
The US Open champion signed for a bogey free 4-under opening round and while four shots adrift will be among the favourites to hoist the trophy at the end of the week.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth played with Johnson in round one but will be less than pleased with a scrappy 1-under which included three birdies against two bogeys.