Saturday 25 November 2017

Injured Day overcomes McDowell test

Jason Day enjoyed a hard-fought victory over Graeme McDowell. Photo: USA Today Sports
Jason Day enjoyed a hard-fought victory over Graeme McDowell. Photo: USA Today Sports

James Corrigan

The first day of the WGC Match Play Championship was overshadowed by Jason Day’s back injury, which could hardly have been more badly timed with the Masters just two weeks away.

The world No 2 battled on to beat Graeme McDowell, despite being hit with “searing pain” on the 15th tee. He was able to close out the game 3&2, but the fact that he could barely get off his knees to shake the Irishman’s hand highlighted his discomfort.

Day was rushed off to the physio truck, but paused briefly to say: “It’s really hard to play with searing pain in both sides of your lower back. I’m really struggling. My back has seized up and I need to get inside right away for treatment and see what’s wrong.”

Day later left the course without further comment. He is due to play Thongchai Jaidee – who beat Paul Casey 2&1 – at 2.20pm local time today.

The Australian could concede that match and still play Casey tomorrow. But despite having an opportunity to replace Jordan Spieth at the top of the world rankings – at the very least he requires to reach the quarter-finals – Day may decide not to risk it.

The 28-year-old’s caution would be eminently understandable, particularly as his career has been littered with injuries. As well as previous back problems, he also been hit with bouts of vertigo as well as ankle and thumb injuries.

After breaking his Major drought at last year’s USPGA, Day harboured great hopes of winning back-to-back Majors at Augusta, a course where he has recorded two top-three finishes.

Victory at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando suggested that he was peaking at the right time.

McDowell did not realise his opponent was suffering until the 16th tee, when he dropped his driver and doubled-over, clutching his back.

“You never wish injury on any of the guys,” McDowell, said. “He was hitting it 350 (yards) all day and seemed fine to me. But he was obviously in distress on that last hole we played.”

Day managed to par that 566-yard par five and it was clear that the triumph did not come a hole too soon. It had taken all of his short-game talent to recover from being two down after four holes to forge the winning advantage.

McDowell was aggrieved with his own play on and around the greens.

“I’m not taken anything away from Jason but the frustration is that I feel like it’s my sort of course and I played the golf today. But I putted like a muppet.

“It’s do or die now in this group format. I have to win both my games and rely on a bit of luck”

Rory McIlroy was forced to battle before winning 1 up on the last having been 2 down to Thorbjorn Olesen with five holes remaining. The Dane imploded, however, with a shank from the greenside rough on the final hole summing up the latter part of his day.

Martin Kaymer, meanwhile, beat Shane Lowry 1 up after the Irishman relinquished a one hole lead with three to play.

Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood made eight birdies between them, before the Spaniard closed out his former Ryder Cup partner on the last in a roller-coaster encounter that featured only four halved holes.  Spieth beat Jamie Donaldson 3&2.

WGC-Dell Match Play

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