AUSTIN, Texas – Jason Day won his opening match Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Match Play, but his status for the rest of the event is uncertain after injuring his back on the 15th hole.
Day, who didn’t speak to reporters after his 3-and-2 victory over Graeme McDowell, received treatment for what he described as shooting pains down his lower back and into both legs.
Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton, said that he first noticed an issue on the 15th tee.
“He grabbed his back and said, ‘Oh, I just tweaked it,’” Swatton said. “Up until that point, there was nothing.”
The world No. 2 impressed despite walking only seven holes during the practice rounds here at Austin Country Club. After falling into an early hole, Day drove the green on 5 for an easy birdie, then made back-to-back birdies on 8 and 9 to take a 1-up lead. He won the 11th with a conceded birdie and made a 12-footer for birdie on 12 to take a 3-up lead.
Walking up the 15th fairway, Day began holding his back and stretching. By the time he reached the green, he was grimacing and walking gingerly. Off 16 tee, he released the club almost immediately after impact and pulled his tee shot into the fairway bunker.
“I’m thinking to myself: That’ll be right – I’m 3 down with three to go,” McDowell said. “He could probably hop up here and beat me.”
Day almost needed to. While McDowell played his second shot into the par 5, Day bent over and rested both hands on his thighs. When it was time to climb into the fairway bunker, he slid in sideways. Limping up to the green, his par was enough to halve the hole and win the match.
“I’m not going to say it rubbed salt in my wound when a guy is 3 up with three to go and then he starts hurting and is able to limp up and win the match, but it does put a salty edge in it for me,” McDowell said, before adding, with a laugh: “Go down six holes ago if you’re going.”
“But you never wish an injury on a guy," he said, "especially on a guy on top of his form like Jason is, and as good of an athlete as Jason is.”
Day, who is coming off a victory at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, could return to world No. 1 if he goes deep into the knockout stage and Jordan Spieth falters.
Day’s plan for the rest of the event is not immediately known. His agent, Bud Martin, said in a statement that Day is "getting prepared to play tomorrow."
With the round-robin format, Day could decide to forfeit his match Thursday against Thongchai Jaidee and return Friday. But with Jaidee winning his opening match, Day would need to beat Paul Casey on Friday and then have McDowell defeat Jaidee for Day to have a chance to advance to the weekend via the tiebreaker playoff.
Of greater concern now is Day’s health, especially with the Masters now only 15 days away.
“He’s been great all year,” Swatton said of Day’s health. “Just out of the blue. I don’t know if it was one swing or what it was.”