Saturday 27 May 2017

'I didn't think I would cry' - Jason Day tears up the record book to become a major winner

Jason Day walks off the 18th green with his son Dash Day after winning the 2015 PGA Championship golf tournament at Whistling Straits. Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Day walks off the 18th green with his son Dash Day after winning the 2015 PGA Championship golf tournament at Whistling Straits. Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

James Corrigan

Jason Day always said it would take something special to win his first major and how true the Australian was to his word at the 97th US PGA Championship.

Not only did he deny Jordan Spieth a place in history but he claimed his own, breaking Tiger Woods’s low-scoring major record with a 20-under total.

For Spieth, trying to become the first player to win the three US majors in the same season, the consolation was anything but insignificant.

The 22-year-old’s runner-up finish – three behind on 17-under following a 68 – means that he claimed the world No 1 position off Rory McIlroy. After a major season in which his results sheet reads 1-1-4-2 that is surely the very least he deserves.

“Getting to No 1 is an unbelievable feeling,” Spieth said. And in terms of his major hat-trick, this remarkable young Texan simply came up against an inspired opponent who was not willing to play the bridesmaid again. Day came in with three runner-ups in the majors and three other top fours and his tears at the end said it all.

“I didn’t think I would cry,” Day said. “A lot of emotion came out because I have been close so many times before and have fallen short. It has been a long journey and to finish it off in style is an amazing feeling.”

So the player who collapsed with a vertigo attack when in contention at the US Open was the last man standing here. The 27-year-old is still on medication for his condition which makes this 20-under breakthrough yet more impressive.

It is an understatement to say that this had been coming and after this 67 Day’s ability to handle the major heat can never be questioned again.

Nobody has ever been lower to par after 72 holes of a major and when Day, sobbing uncontrollably, hugged his caddie and long-time coach, Col Swatton, and then his pregnant wife, Ellie, and their three-year-old son, Dash, it must be doubted whether any major champion has ever felt happier or more fulfilled.

It was a popular win in the locker room, with McIlroy leading the praise.

“This is a huge monkey [off his back],” McIlroy said. “Obviously he’s had so many chances; he finished second to me at Congressional [in the US Open] four years ago. And he was close at the Masters that year, as well.

"So it’s been all that knocking on the door, knocking on the door, and I’m delighted for him. It would have harsh if he’d lost this.”

Indeed, it would have. This was the third major in a row which he held, or had a share of the lead, a feat not accomplished since Phil Mickelson nine years before.

But in that list of three-time 54-hole leaders his compatriot Greg Norman had failed to convert the first two. The Great White Shark prevailed at the third attempt in 1986 and so, too, did Day.

Having gone through a painful childhood – his father died when he was 12, sending the boy into a spiral of alcohol – Day has experienced proper adversity and was convinced that if he kept on putting himself into position then eventually it would be his turn. Yet this was a victory in which the protagonist grabbed fate and did not wait for it to come to him.

With mentor Swatton on his bag and his shoulder, Day was determined to seize his destiny and not sit on his overnight two-shot lead. Well, he could do little else with Spieth as his playing partner could he?

Day tore through the first seven holes, birdieing the second and then reeling off a hat-trick from the fifth. The 50-footer on the par-three seventh produced wild celebrations. It took him four clear of Spieth and from there it was his to lose.

Branden Grace took over as the principal pursuer, going out in 32 and closing to within two when Day bogeyed the eighth. But the South African double-bogeyed the 10th and the baton passed to Rose, who birdied the 10th and 11th to claw himself to within a couple. Alas, double-bogey sixes plagued his championship, taking two of them on the par-four fourth.

His third of the week, at the 13th, effectively killed off Rose’s challenge and so it was Spieth – who else? – who resumed the chase.

In truth, it was to be forlorn. Spieth had uncharacteristically missed couple of putts – a missed nine-footer on the fourth, one from six feet on the 11th – and when he did switch back into Jordan mode, making a 12 footer for birdie on the 13th to bring the deficit to three, Day was soon to respond. From a fairway bunker on the 14th, Day hit a wedge to 10ft and holed for the birdie.

Still it was not over, not with the treacherous 18th still to come. But by matching Spieth’s birdie on the par-five 16th and then a brilliant lag putt for a par on the 17th – during which Spieth yet again showed what a sportsman he is, by giving Day the thumbs up as his ball rolled to the hole’s side – he could walk down the last with a three-shot cushion.

There would be no Van de Velde in Wisconsin. Day hit the green in two and two-putted to better Woods’s 19-under total at the 2000 Open at St Andrews.

In third came Grace on 15 under after a 69 and one shot further back was Rose who closed out with a 70. With his second at the Masters and his sixth at St Andrews, this was a fine major campaign for the 2013 US Open champion.

McIlroy finished with a 69 for nine under and 17th place. That was certainly not what he hoped for but at the very least he proved his fitness.

So much for all those doom-mongers – Woods among them – who predicted an uncomfortable experience for McIlroy and indeed, for the critics who declared that he should sit it out until the new year.

“If I’m looking at it as a whole, I feel I’ve done well to come back and shoot these scores,” McIlroy said. “Considering six weeks ago I wasn’t able to walk, it’s not a bad effort. I’m just going to take a couple of weeks off and not need a strap or anything to play. There will be no issues and hopefully I can give it a good run in the FedEx Cup [play-offs].”

McIlroy has so much motivation. He has a world No 1 tag to earn back; plus an imposing world No 3 in Day. This three-way rivalry could run and run.

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