Jason sees light of Day

Personality : After a few frustrating outings in his previous majors, the talented Australian finally lands a big title
Last Updated 22 August 2015, 18:37 IST

After a 314-yard drive on the par-5 16th hole at Whistling Straits, Jason Day had a decision to make. Ahead by three strokes in his bid to win his first major championship, Day could lay up with his next shot, which was the smart but conservative move, or go for the green as if he had nothing to lose.

Day did not deliberate for long. In the previous two majors, he had held at least a share of the 54-hole lead and had failed to win. Six times since 2013, he had posted top-10 finishes at golf's four biggest annual events.

He was going to win the 97th PGA Championship or go down swinging from his heels.
Using his 4-iron, Day hit a towering draw that landed on the fringe of the green. He made a birdie to get to 20-under par, and that was where he finished, closing with a 5-under 67 for the day to beat Jordan Spieth by three strokes.

 Branden Grace of South Africa finished third at 15-under, one stroke ahead of Justin Rose of England.

Day's 20-under-par set a major championship record for strokes under par, beating by one the mark set at the 2000 British Open by Tiger Woods, whose success inspired Day to pursue golf as a career. As a teenager in his native Australia, Day read a biography about Woods that fanned the flames of his desire.

"It had results from age 13 to when he turned professional, and the scores were just amazing," Day said in an interview last year. "It was like, 'Why am I not shooting these scores?' That book inspired me to practice and really work on my game."

To alter the major championship record book at Woods' expense, Day said, "is fantastic - it's an amazing feeling."

Woods, a 14-time major winner, missed the cut here, but he cast an ethereal shadow over the final pairing, Day and Spieth. While Day motored full speed ahead toward Woods' major record, Spieth tried in vain to draft off his wake.

After titles at the Masters and the US Open, Spieth, 22, was trying to become the third man, and the first since Woods in 2000, to win three professional majors in the same year. He carded a 68 to complete 16 rounds at this year's major tournaments in 54-under. He set the record spree rolling in April by tying the Masters record of 18-under.

After Sunday's tournament, Woods wrote on Twitter: "Very happy for Jason. Great dude and well deserved. Hats off to Jordan, incredible season."

If a clairvoyant had told Spieth he would shoot a 17-under 271 for the week, he would have prepared a victory speech. He called Day's performance "a clinic to watch."

"He was sitting there swinging as hard as he could off the tee," Spieth said, adding: "I mean, power to him. He played like he had won seven or eight majors before."

All was not lost for Spieth, who supplanted Rory McIlroy at No. 1, ending McIlroy's 55-week reign.

"It's by far the best loss I think I've ever had," Spieth said.  
With the victory, Day moved to third in the rankings, meaning that golf's top three have an average age of 25.

When Woods was in his mid-20s, he had no one in his peer group to push him. Spieth, McIlroy and Day are but the tip of an iceberg of a globe-spanning generation, inspired by Woods to take up the game, that could end up being golf's greatest.

It includes the American Rickie Fowler, 26, who in May won the Players Championship, considered the most prestigious nonmajor; Grace, 27, a six-time European Tour winner; Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, 23, whose six top-five showings this season included fifth place at the Masters; and Brooks Koepka, 25, who posted his second consecutive top-10 finish in a major.

Day's move up the rankings was made possible, he said, by his fall down the leaderboard at the US Open in June. He played the last three rounds with vertigo and was on the verge of walking off the course a few times. By grinding out a tie for ninth, Day proved to himself that he had the fortitude to break through the ceiling of his comfort zone.

"It was good for me to understand how far I could really push myself and really understand that it's OK to go out there and just keep battling," Day said. "I felt like it was a real kind of growing moment for me, because every now and then we get to a point in our games where it's OK to just go, 'OK, it's all right; I can just hit it in the middle of the green,' or 'I don't really need to hole this putt.' It's taken a long time to get to point where I can actually feel a lot more comfortable in a position where I can just go out and attack."

Day became emotional when he talked about how his toughest loss - the death of his father from stomach cancer when Day was 12 - made his golf career possible. After his father's death, Day began abusing alcohol and getting into fights in school.

His mother, fearful of losing him to the streets, sold their home and borrowed money from relatives to send Day to a boarding school, where he came under the tutelage of Colin Swatton. Fifteen years later, Swatton is Day's swing coach, caddie, mentor and confidant.
"To have him walk up the 18th hole with me was just a special, special thing that I could never forget," Day said.

For a few years, Day has been considered perhaps the best golfer not to have won a major. It is a label he is relieved to have shed.

"Knowing that I had the 54-hole lead for the last three majors and not being able to finish, it would have been tough for me mentally to really kind of come back from that," Day said. "Even though I feel like I'm a positive person, I think that kind of in the back of my mind, something would have triggered, and I would have gone, 'Maybe I can't really finish it off.'"

JASON DAY: Knowing that I had the 54-hole lead for the last three majors and not being able to finish, it would have been tough for me mentally to really kind of come back from that.

(Published 22 August 2015, 17:23 IST)

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