Day dream: Jason finally breaks through at PGA

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2015, 1:38 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The prognosticators figured it would be a Tiger-esque performance – and it was, only not by the player everyone thought would deliver.

Jason Day came full circle on Sunday after having started what some were beginning to see as a misguided major quest at Whistling Straits when he tied for 10th at the 2010 PGA.

Five years after that first brush with Grand Slam greatness the affable Australian laid a Heisman on the field with a near-flawless round and then both hands on the Wanamaker Trophy, the 27-pound chalice that had started to feel like the weight of the world on Day’s broad shoulders.

Unlike so many times in his career, there were no missed putts at crucial moments like at the Open Championship, no debilitating bouts with vertigo like at the U.S. Open and, most importantly, no heartbreak.

This time the five-time Tour winner – who as a gangly 12-year-old showed up at the Kooralbyn International School in Australia with a decent but not spectacular game and a 460cc-sized chip on his shoulder – didn’t allow fate to intervene on another’s behalf.

Day forged his way into the lead heading into Sunday at a major for the third time this season with a third-round 66. He defied the unseen forces and internal demons that had made him a perennial bridesmaid at the biggest events through utter force of will.

He birdied the first, fifth, sixth and seventh holes in what quickly became a dart-throwing contest to maintain his two-stroke lead and never allowed anyone, not even Jordan Spieth, to get any closer on his way to a closing 67.

“It was probably the hardest round of golf I’ve ever played,” said Day, who came up five strokes shy to Spieth at the U.S. Open and one shot out the playoff at last month’s Open Championship. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t know how tough.”

PGA Championship: Full-field scores

The PGA has historically been the more user friendly of the four major championships in terms of scoring, but as a warm morning turned to a scorching afternoon the year’s final Grand Slam gathering descended into a skins game with players trading birdies and boring down on historical scoring records with each swing.

For the record, Day’s 20 under total is a new major championship mark for relation to par. Not bad considering they’ve been playing these things for 155 years.

Spieth, who found himself in a familiar spot late on a major championship Sunday, finished the year 54 under par in four Grand Slam starts. That’s four strokes better than the previous mark set by Tiger Woods in 2000.

While red figures may not be everyone’s brand of vodka when it comes to major championships, the scoring frenzy did entertain.

In order, Branden Grace, Justin Rose and ultimately Spieth all made spirited runs at Day, but the kid from Kooralbyn – a sports specific school on the outskirts of Australia’s Gold Coast where the notion of golf greatness first took root – answered every challenge.

Grace rolled in birdie putts from Manitowoc to Mequon – the Cheeseheads in the crowd know what that’s about – to move to within two shots before the turn, but was ultimately undone by a double bogey-6 at the 10th hole.

Rose also cut Day’s advantage to three shots with a birdie at the 11th, but a hole later faded with a double bogey at the 13th.

And finally Spieth, of course it would be Spieth, cut the deficit to three shots with a 15 footer for birdie at the 13th hole, but Day continued the volley with a birdie at the 14th hole.

The only moment that passed as even remotely tense came on the 15th hole when Day teed off with a four-stroke lead with four to play but made bogey, and briefly conjured up memories of another Australian (Adam Scott) who had a commanding four-shot lead but collapsed at the 2012 Open Championship.

Day would have none of it.

In the ultimate show of respect, Spieth shot Day a thumbs up sign after he lagged a lengthy birdie putt to within inches at the 17th hole for what felt like a walk-off par.

From there Day took the walk up the 18th hole with a three-shot cushion that not even Dustin Johnson and one of Whistling Straits’ ubiquitous bunkers/sand boxes could mishandle.

“We play a lot of golf and we’ve played a lot of major championship rounds together and that was the best I've ever seen him play,” said Spieth, who at least enjoyed the consolation of overtaking Rory McIlroy atop the World Golf Ranking with his runner-up finish at Whistling Straits. “He's impressive to watch strike the ball, but it was nothing like today. He took it back and he wailed on it and it was a stripe show. It was really a clinic to watch.”

Spieth, who could have joined Woods and Ben Hogan as the only men to win three majors in one year in the Masters era, instead closed with a 68 to put the finishing touches on the best major championship season since Woods collect three in 2000.

His bid to hit for the Grand Slam cycle came up two swings short, the first from the Valley of Sin at the Open Championship and then along the shores of Lake Michigan when he tugged his second shot into a bunker left of the 16th green. He ended up making birdie on the hole, but he needed something truly heroic.

Spieth’s perceived lack of driving distance has always been a question mark, or maybe it’s an easy out for those who struggle to pinpoint his brilliance, but those who have played and lost to the twenty-something contend he’s long enough at 76th on Tour just after Retief Goosen and just before Jim Herman.

Yet while that game plays well if you are putting like Spieth at, say any of this year’s other majors, on Sunday it proved to be too much of a handicap against Day.

For the week, Day averaged 305 yards off the tee and was third in the field in driving distance. In practical terms, he was able to dismantle the par 5s (playing them in 15 under) thanks to drives like his 382-yard effort on No. 11.

“[Spieth] said to me in scoring, ‘Man, there was nothing I could do,’” Day said.

For so long it felt like there was nothing Day could do to shed his major monkey, but that all started to change when he rebounded from his St. Andrews swoon with a clutch performance at the RBC Canadian Open and arrived at Whistling Straits with a different, even demur, outlook.

“I sensed this week he was more relaxed and calm,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s swing coach and caddie who began working with him when he arrived at Kooralbyn. “At a major sometimes you can get consumed by everything that’s going on, but this week he didn’t allow that to happen.”

Day had found so many ways to lose majors, from V (vertigo at the U.S. Open) to Z (Zach Johnson at the Open Championship), one would have thought he’d simply run out of roadblocks. But this time neither vertigo nor unseen vulnerabilities would deny him.

Twenty years after Steve Elkington became the last Australian to win the PGA Championship Day hoisted the same trophy, but his achievement went well beyond the numbers on a scorecard or a chapter in the history books.

Your scribe first met Day in 2007 at a Tour event in Australia, and the then-19 year old didn’t flinch when asked what he wanted to accomplish in golf.

“I want to be No. 1 in world,” he said without a trace of false modesty.

His victory at Whistling Straits moved Day to No. 3 in the World Golf Ranking, but for the first time since he formulated that dream as a 12 year old it seems a lot closer.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.