CHICAGO • Jason Day had a new caddie to carry his golf clubs but was stuck with the same old troublesome back in the opening round of the BMW Championship.
Walking gingerly between shots at Conway Farms outside Chicago on Thursday, the former world No. 1 nevertheless swung with apparent freedom to card a seven-under 64 and end the day two strokes behind compatriot Marc Leishman in a share of second.
"It's just a little stiff in the back," said the Australian, who has been plagued by recurrent pain throughout his career. "I feel I have a stiff back every week."
After dumping Col Swatton in the run-up to the tournament, Day strode the fairways in the company of childhood friend Luke Reardon, who was working as a fill-in caddie this week.
Day says Swatton, his mentor, coach and caddie since the age of 12, will stay on as instructor.
"Luke did a fantastic job out there today," the 29-year-old said. "You never know whether you're going to gel. He's a good golfer, has got a keen golf IQ. We worked well together and hope we can keep that going."
Day has happy memories of Conway Farms, where he gained the world No. 1 ranking by winning the BMW Championship two years ago.
He is 40 under in his career at this course, nine shots better than any other player, but he has not been his usual self for much of this year with only four top-10 finishes in 19 starts. Something had to give and, as with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson before him this summer, it was the caddie.
Joining Day in second after the first round of the US PGA Tour's penultimate play-off event are Americans Charley Hoffman and Jamie Lovemark.
Leishman, 33, came into the tournament in seventh place in the FedExCup standings.
But, with his sizzling round, he stole the spotlight from British Open champion Jordan Spieth, who leads the play-off standings and played alongside Justin Thomas (67) and Dustin Johnson (71) - who are right behind Spieth in the race for the US$10 million (S$13.4 million) play-off series bonus.
Leishman set the tone with a birdie at the first, one of six birdies with a bogey on his front nine. The 33-year-old also picked up four more birdies on the back nine.
"I hit the ball really well, which is obviously what you have to do to shoot that score," he said.
Rickie Fowler powered to a 65, stringing together six straight birdies from the 12th to the 17th holes to join Spieth on six under.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 3: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 1am