Is Day ready for a major breakthrough?

By John FeinsteinJune 11, 2014, 9:07 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – If you walk the grounds at Pinehurst this week you will be surrounded by avid golf fans, true devotees of the game.

And yet if you ask this question, chances are you will not get a correct answer: Who finished second to Justin Rose in last year’s U.S. Open at Merion?

That’s easy, right? Phil Mickelson finished second and declared it the biggest heartbreak of his career.

Mickelson did finish second at Merion – his sixth second-place finish in a U.S. Open. But he didn’t finish second alone. He tied for second with … wait for it … Jason Day.

Day has finished second twice in the Open - 2011 in the Rory McIlroy runaway at Congressional and last year at Merion when, like Mickelson, he was in contention until the last few holes. In his first Masters, in 2011, he tied for second - two shots behind Charl Schwartzel. Last year he finished third at Augusta, two shots shy of the Adam Scott-Angel Cabrera playoff.

It is easy to forget that Day is still only 26 because he’s been on so many major leaderboards, even though his first one wasn’t until the 2010 PGA, where he tied for 10th.  He hasn’t made it look easy, but he has made it clear he can play very good golf when the heat is on. Just not quite good enough - yet - to get where he wants to go.

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“I’ve been close in a few majors now,” he said Tuesday. “So close you can almost taste it. It’s disappointing and encouraging at the same time. It really is all how you look at things. I can stew on it and say I kind of have blown a major or two or I had a real opportunity to win and I just didn’t quite get there.

“But I look at it as experience.  I just have to keep giving myself the opportunities. If I can put myself there more and more and more, it’s bound to happen.”

If it happens this week at Pinehurst, you can bet much will be made of the fact that Day’s father, Alvin, who gave him his first golf club when he was 3, passed away, a cancer victim, when Jason was 12. Now that Jason is a father himself - his son Dash will be 2 in July - the Father’s Day theme that frequently dominates an Open Sunday would be very much in play - just as it was a year ago when Rose blew a kiss skyward to honor his dad after his final putt on 18.

Day has thought about what it might mean to him to be in that position. “I know, watching Rosie last year, his dad passed away and just for him to talk about what the impact his father had on his life, to be able to recognize that and say it in his speeches, you know it’s pretty special,” Day said. “Hopefully, one day Dash will be able to see me playing and winning tournaments, not only the U.S. Open, but other tournaments as well. And we can look back on it together as father and son and really enjoy it and have those memories that go a long way. Because I never really got to experience that with my father.”

Day has never been one to dwell on setbacks - the biggest one being his dad’s death. This year he’s dealt with injuries - one to his thumb and one to his knee - that set him back after he won the Accenture Match Play in February. He appeared poised to make a serious run at being ranked No. 1 after that victory jumped him to No. 4.

Instead, he had to take time off, tried to play through pain at the Masters - finishing tied for 20th - and then had to take another few weeks off to try to allow the thumb and knee to heal.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “I’ve been icing my thumb and taking anti-inflammatories every day just to make sure that it doesn’t pop up again. If it’s going to pop up, it’s going to pop up.”

Day arrived in Pinehurst on Friday so he could play his way into the tournament without pushing his body too hard. He played nine holes Tuesday and took Wednesday off to rest for his early tee time Thursday. He’s played only once - the Memorial - since the Masters, so this might not be his week to win a major - yet.

Either way, Day will handle what comes with grace because he’s a remarkably mature young man. When he was asked Tuesday about losing his father at an early age he made the point that, as sad as it was, he isn’t the only person to deal with that sort of loss.

Day was 19 when he made it through the first two stages of Q-School and played what was then the Nationwide Tour in 2007. He and Erik Compton, who has had two heart transplants, became friends during that year.

 “Spending time with Erik taught me a lot about life and about adversity,” Day said. “We golfers tend to get pissy if we get rained on for 15 minutes. Or if the wind changes on us during a round. I saw what Erik had to go through every day just to get to the first tee - the pills, the headaches he gets all the time - and it made me realize that I’ve suffered some loss but I’ve got a pretty easy life right now. In a sense, I was lucky to find that out even before I got to the Tour.”

He became the youngest player ever to win on that tour in July 2007 and was on the PGA Tour in 2008, shortly after turning 20. He won for the first time in 2010 at the Byron Nelson Classic and has steadily improved since. His ability to deal with what comes – whether near-misses in majors or injuries at inopportune times - makes it easy to forget that he’s still just a kid when it comes to golf.

On Tuesday, someone pointed out that the two Australians who have been ranked No. 1 - Greg Norman and current No. 1 Adam Scott - were both in their 30s when they reached that ranking. Day won’t be 30 until July 2017.

“Yeah, I’d like to do that (be No. 1 before 30),” he said with a grin. “It would be awesome just to be No. 1 in general but I really want to achieve that No. 1 spot before I’m 30. And then get into my real peak of my golfing career and see what I’ve got.”

Based on what he’s shown, Day appears to have plenty. And plenty more still to come.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”