Day, seeking a fourth win in six starts, returned to Conway Farms Golf Club after overnight thunderstorms with a 44-yard chip shot from deep rough standing between him and a magical 59.
But his attempt was short by nine feet and he failed to make the birdie putt, leaving the 27-year-old Australian with an opening 61 in the third of the PGA Tour’s four concluding playoff events in the season-long FedExCup race.
“Selfishly, a 59 would have been great and only a handful of guys have shot 59, and I understand what the history is, but right now winning the tournament is more important than shooting the 59,” said Day, who could reach the top of the world rankings with victory this week.
“Overall I hit a pretty good chip, but I thought it was just going to bounce a little bit more than what it did.”
Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth, playing with Day, was in a six-way share of second place at six under along with fellow Americans Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Kevin Na, and Harris English.
World number one Rory McIlroy (68) was seven shots back.
Spieth also played the first two rounds of the last two FedExCup events with Day, the first of which the Australian won by six shots. And while Spieth played his final eight holes in six under this week, he was once again trailing Day who mixed nine birdies with an eagle and bogey.
“It is definitely challenging (to keep up with Day),” said world number two Spieth, who missed the cut in the first two FedExCup playoff events.
“It’s something that I struggled with. … It’s just hard to stay patient when you see Jason is four or five early into the back nine and then I try and force some stuff because I’m like, ‘hey, there’s birdies out there.’
“Normally my game revolves around being patient, being able to make some putts to get into a rhythm. I just wasn’t doing that, seeing the scores around me. It was tough.”
But Spieth brought a new approach to this week.
“Today I was kind of laughing at it. It was a different approach,” said Spieth. “I stayed patient, just kind of laughed it off. This is what he’s doing right now, and just try and play my game, and that was the difference.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)