Day in position to end eventful season on high note

By Rex HoggardAugust 30, 2014, 11:44 pm

NORTON, Mass. – In bullet-point fashion, Jason Day’s season has been a year of dramatic contrasts.

In order, he has won a World Golf Championship and endured three cortisone shots, a grip change, a bout with vertigo and the slings and arrows of the kind of internal dialogue that is always accompanied by a healthy dollop of doubt.

What began as a breakout season for the would-be world beater, punctuated by his victory at the Match Play Championship in February, cascaded into a collection of visits to the doctor’s office and more than 2 ½ months on the DL.

Pain and rehabilitation Day can deal with. He’s had plenty of practice in a career dotted with injuries ranging from his ankle to his wrist and now his thumb. What compounded the problem was all the free time that he suddenly had to endure.

Along the lines of idle hands and whatnot, Day spent a good amount of time lamenting his plight and wrestling with the predictable demons.

“The stress was tough. Just not knowing if you’re going to play again. Your mind wanders and you think, ‘Is this the end for me?’” Day said.

Deep stuff for a 26-year-old, but he has come by his anxiety honestly.

For weeks at a time, Day’s ailing left thumb refused to heal and with each passing checkup, the progress and long-term prognosis continued to stall until he decided to stop waiting and worrying.


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Day hired a new conditioning coach who created a program to protect his fragile thumb. His swing coach, Col Swatton, had him weaken his grip to alleviate the pressure of repeated swings. Day’s “ball count” jumped from about 50 range balls a week before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to nearly 500, and he opened with rounds of 69-65 at the PGA Championship on his way to a tie for 15th place. Two weeks later at The Barclays he held a share of the lead through 54 holes before finishing two shots behind eventual champion Hunter Mahan.

On a perfect fall Saturday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Day stormed out early with a front-nine 31 and will take another lead into a playoff Sunday. Although he’s only midway through this event – which finishes on Monday – and it is Ryan Palmer who is tied with him atop the leaderboard, the reasons to be optimistic go well beyond his second-round scorecard.

That he’s playing PGA Tour golf, albeit not entirely pain-free, is reason to exhale. That he’s vying for his second title in as many weeks is something that he thought might never happen again.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Day, who led by as many as two strokes before making a mess of the par-5 18th hole on his way to a second-round 68.

It’s the kind of golf many expected from Day when he collected his second Tour title earlier this year at the WGC-Match Play and the kind of run that made him a can’t-miss prospect when he turned professional in 2006.

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson could be forgiven if he gave the Presidents Cup staple - an Ohio resident by way of Queensland, Australia - the nod on Tuesday with one of his wild-card picks. Day has everything a captain with too many options would want, except for the wrong passport to join the U.S. side in Scotland.

But as impressive as Day’s play has been the last month, it is his growing confidence that may vault him atop the FedEx Cup standings on Monday. After a season of doubt and doctors, the swagger, and a healthy bit of perspective, has returned.

“Sunday last week was the best I’ve ever seen on a Sunday,” Swatton said. “You could see he was confident.”

Always considered a singular talent, if there was a knock against Day before this season it was his play on Sundays when tournaments, often of the major championship variety, were on the line.

In a twisted way, Day’s bout with a bad thumb has seemed to put that second-guessing into perspective. After facing the possibility of life after golf, those 5-footers for birdie on the back nine with hardware hanging in the balance no longer seem to weigh as heavily on him.

Consider that on Sunday last week at The Barclays, Day played his last six holes in 2 under par and closed with a 68, which would normally give the 54-hole leader a better than average chance had it not been for Mahan’s heroics.

After contemplating the end for weeks at a time, it seems Day still has a few bullet items to add to what has already been an eventful season.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“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, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. 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.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.