Day wasn't worried about 'dry spell'

By Rex HoggardMarch 18, 2016, 7:03 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – There was no concern, no panic, no sense of urgency, just an innate understanding of the natural ebb and flow of his own competitive clock.

Jason Day, after all, has always done things at his own measured pace.

He earned his PGA Tour card in 2008 but needed two years to find a winner’s circle many thought would be a regular stop for the Australian prodigy.

He needed four more years to add title No. 2 and played in 20 majors before finally joining the Grand Slam club last year at the PGA Championship.

So when Day put the finishing touches on his breakthrough 2015 season with a tie for 10th at the Tour Championship last September he understandably took a little extra time to savor the moment.

By his own admission, during his three months “off” after East Lake, he put in about a month of net practice and started this year with something less than his A-game, posting just a single top-10 finish (Hyundai Tournament of Champions) in four starts. 

Yet even as writers opined and analysts lamented his slow start to 2016, Day remained patient, if not acutely aware of the armchair apprehension.

“Seems like you guys had concerns for me,” Day said on Friday at Bay Hill.

It’s the kind of attention that comes with winning major championships and moving to No. 1 in the world, however briefly, and Day would expect nothing less.

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“It’s tough to be in a position we’re in as top-ranked players because everyone is expecting you to do well. Everyone is always watching what you’re doing and critiquing what you’re doing,” Day said.

“It’s harder for us to go through a little bit of a dry spell, more so than the guy who is 125 on the FedEx Cup. I’m OK with that because it means I have to work harder because everyone is telling me I’m not playing well. I should be playing better because everyone is expecting me to play better.”

Day’s answer to all that noise has been absolute this week. On Friday he turned at 9 under and three strokes clear of the field, added three more birdies, signed for a 65 for a 13-under total and promptly was administered a drug test, because ... well, nothing says “random” like a five-stroke cushion through 54 holes.

Day’s play was even more impressive considering he’s never played well during the Tour’s Florida swing, an anomaly compounded by the fact he began his professional career living in a condo not 10 minutes from Bay Hill.

In 18 starts in the Sunshine State, not counting The Players, Day’s best finish is a tie for 17th last year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an oddity Day’s caddie Colin Swatton attributes to the particular short-game demands of Bermuda rough.

It was why Day and Swatton exchanged a high-five when they arrived at Bay Hill this week to see thick, lush over-seeded rough that is more to the world No. 3’s liking.

But it’s not a more familiar grass or the inevitable reduction of rust that has fueled Day’s turnaround this week so much as it is the confidence born from near-flawless execution.

On Friday, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and 11 of 14 fairways, and rolled in 125 feet of putts, perhaps none more impressive than a 36-footer for a closing birdie at the ninth hole (he started his day on No. 10) after a rare foul ball off the tee.

“I felt like I couldn't do anything wrong out there, which was good, and was driving it nice and was driving it really long,” said Day, who normally avoids such optimistic assessments of his own game. “I had several chances to hit a lot of greens and I putted fantastic today. To hole 125 feet of putts was fantastic.”

For Day, comfort equates to courageousness, like his bold blast from a greenside bunker at the sixth hole to 2 feet for birdie with nothing but trouble glaring back at him.

“When you're trying shots that you really haven't put in play before with water behind and things can possibly go wrong, that means it shows that I'm pretty confident with how I'm feeling out there,” Day said.

Day’s 66-65 start marks his best opening effort this year; his 13-under total would have won eight of the last nine tournaments at Bay Hill. He said his driving is close to where it was last year when he won four events in six starts including that first major at Whistling Straits.

“This is not an easy golf course and what he’s done is impressive,” said Zach Johnson, who was paired with Day for Rounds 1 and 2 this week.

Nor is Day’s play an accident.

Since he got back to work following the birth of his second child in the offseason, Day said he’s spent 3 ½ hours a day on his short game, 3 hours on his long game and another hour in the gym.

That’s every day, and that’s why despite a collective concern over his slow start to 2016 he was never worried.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.