Tuesday 20 March 2018

Day breaks Major duck

Second best enough for Spieth to claim McIlroy’s No 1 crown

Jason Day, of Australia, smiles as he holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament
Jason Day, of Australia, smiles as he holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament
Jason Day salutes the galleries after winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits
Jordan Spieth of the United States watches his tee shot on the fifth hole

Liam Kelly in Whistling Straits

The name of the game was: Who wants to be a $1.8 millionaire?

The multiple choice questions were: (a) Who wants it most? (b) Whose golf game can stand up to the immense pressure of the last day of the 2015 US PGA Championship; and (c ) Whose name was on the Wanamaker Trophy?

No phone a friend. No second chances. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. The clock was running and when the bell finally dinged, the ultimate answer was: Jason Day of Australia.

Cue applause, tears of emotion and an outpouring of joy for all those connected with the man who beat the world's best golfers on the daunting Straits Course at the Whistling Straits complex in Haven, Wisconsin.

"You guys saw it on the 18the green, even before I finished I had tears in my eyes," he admitted.

"It's a special moment, I was aiming for one (Major) but now I'm aiming for more. I just gotta soak it in now. It's amazing."

The money is great, but money cannot buy the glory of a Major championship win and a place in golfing history.

G'day mate? No, a great Day, mate, for the first Australian to win the US PGA Championship since Steve Elkington beat Colin Montgomerie in a play-off in 1995.

A gutsy last round of 67 for a 20-under-par 268, brought Day the best score to par in Major history and more important, the PGA title.

Jordan Spieth, Day's playing partner, did all he could to win a third Major of the season but his 68 for 271 left him in second place, two shots ahead of Branden Grace of South Africa in third, with England's Justin Rose fourth on 14-under 274.

Consolation for Spieth is that he now takes over the World No 1 slot at the expense of Rory McIlroy whose 69 for 279, nine-under-par, meant he lost his premier ranking after a year at the top.

Day has suffered from various health problems in his career, including swine flu, bronchitis, allergies, and most recently, a severe form of vertigo that caused him huge distress in the second round of the US Open.

Arguably more frustrating was his place among the pantheon of 'best players yet to win a Major title' but he shrugged off that unwanted tag by finally cracking the code to winning one of golf's premier championships.

The Aussie, 27, from Beaudesert, Queensland, did it the hard way, playing alongside US hero Spieth and leading from the front by two shots at the start of play.


His answer to the pressure was to put the accelerator down and reel off four one-putt birdies at distances ranging from four feet on the second hole, to 50 feet at the seventh, taking him from 15-under par to 19 under.

Day then bogeyed the ninth after an errant drive landed in a fairway bunker and he had to pitch out sideways.

Normal fare resumed with a birdie on the 11th to go back to 19 under.

Spieth, meanwhile, was staying stubborn as usual.

He improved from an opening 13-under par to 15-under by the sixth, but was pegged back by a bogey on the ninth.

Number 10, the tricky 361-yard par-4 gave up a birdie and the tension ramped up when Spieth added another red number to his scorecard on the 13th hole, reducing the deficit to three shots.

Day held his nerve commendably with another deadly strike to restore his four-shot lead at the 14th.

Thena bogey five by Day on the 15th and par for Spieth cut the advantage to three shots with three to play.

Squeaky-bum time, as former Manchester United manager and keen golfer Alex Ferguson would say.

The stage was left to the two men, as erstwhile challengers Justin Rose and Branden Grace fell back to 15 under and 14 under respectively.

It was virtually matchplay and all to play for.

Day was pin high with an eagle putt from 14 feet on the par-5 16th, while Spieth's second shot landed in a greenside bunker.

The American had a very awkward stance, as his ball lay close to the side of the bunker, but splashed out and almost holed for a three.

Day's eagle attempted just missed the target and both men duly tapped in for their birdies, taking the Australian back to 20under, and Spieth to 17 under with two holes to play.

Both faced long putts on the 223-yard, par-3 17th where they both found the putting surface off the tee.

Day's 40 footer slid up to inside three feet, garnering a sporting thumbs-up from Spieth, whose own attempt came up five feet short of the cup.

Spieth got his ball down, but only after it rolled along the edge of the hole, and Day's par left him with a three shot lead going to the 18th tee box.

Both men found the fairway and then the green in regulation. Game almost over and par got the job done for Day.

Meanwhile defending champion Rory McIlroy departed from Whistling Straits in a philosophical mood.

McIlroy began the fourth round nine shots adrift of overnight leader Day, and much as he wanted to believe in miracles, 69 was the best he could achieve.

"If I'm looking at it as a whole, I feel like I've done well to come back and shoot the scores that I have. I feel like I progressed each and every day.

"Obviously it isn't a win and I didn't get myself into contention, but considering six weeks ago I wasn't able to walk, it's not a bad effort," said McIlroy.

The Ulsterman also revealed that the ATFL ankle ligament rupture he suffered on July 4 still needs careful monitoring and treatment.

"The ankle is fine. We came up with a plan that after this week I could take a couple of weeks off just in case anything did happen or there were any setbacks."

McIlroy admitted that Spieth deserved to replace him as World No 1.

"Honestly the way Jordan has been playing and the way I haven't played much this year - I think that was only my 12th or 13th event - it's very deservedly so," he said.

Asked if regaining top spot would give him extra motivation, McIlroy added: "Not really. I've always said that winning golf tournaments takes care of all of that stuff. Right now I'm focused on just getting my game the way I think it has to be to win tournaments like this."

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