ORLANDO, Fla. – When Jason Day arrived at Bay Hill to play last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was fielding a predictable set of questions.
What’s the state of your game?
How close are you?
Are you trending in the right direction?
It’s no real surprise that he’s heard many of the same questions this week following a similar start to his year. Before Bay Hill in 2016, the Australian had finished T-10, missed cut, T-11 and T-23. This year his road to Arnie’s place is virtually identical, with a T-12, missed cut, T-5 and T-64.
If you follow trends, you’d think Day could take some solace from those similar paths to Bay Hill, but you would be wrong.
“I came off a season  that I won five times, I won a major championship, two wins in the playoffs,” he reasoned on Thursday after an opening 70 lifted him into a tie for second place. “I came here [this year] and I would say that I just don't quite have enough confidence in my swing right now.”
He went on to explain that his putting is close but not quite there either, and that he’s doing all the same things he did last year, and the years before that, but he’s still missing that crucial element that’s needed to separate himself from the rest of the field.
“I can tell you that I'm trying my best. Some years are going to be great and some years are going to be down and unfortunately that's just how it goes,” shrugged Day, who is all too aware that confusing results for the process can be an extremely dangerous slope.
Although Day’s health is always a point of concern, consider that in recent months he missed the 2016 Tour Championship (back injury) and the ’17 WGC-Mexico Championship (flu and double ear infection), his dedication and desire is beyond reproach. He’s driven to win, like most world-class players, but unlike many of his A-list frat brothers he’s also keen to reclaim the top spot in the World Golf Ranking that Dustin Johnson took from him last month.
“Dustin is playing tremendous golf, Jordan [Spieth] is playing good golf, Rory [McIlroy] is obviously back from injury, so there's a ton of good golfers that are trying to get back to that spot and I'm trying to do the same,” Day said. “I just have to try and do my best to forget about what has happened in the past and just try and keep moving forward and do my best and get the process right.”
Day can’t overtake Johnson in the world math this week, but he can certainly make things more interesting next week at the WGC-Dell Match Play with another big week in central Florida. But then that wouldn’t be part of the process.
It may appear as if he’s at a similar crossroads this year at Bay Hill, but his outlook is distinctly subdued. Remember, after winning last year’s API, his first PGA Tour victory in Florida, he won his next start at the WGC-Match Play and The Players a month later. It was what we’ve come to expect from the 29-year-old, at least when he’s healthy.
His health may be contributing to his measured outlook on Day 1 at Bay Hill. Asked how his back was feeling, he joked, “I have the back of a 70-year-old.” But after teeing off early in blustery cold conditions the joke didn’t seem to cheer him up.
The nostalgia of this week may also be adding to his outlook. On Wednesday, Day spoke at length about winning last year’s stop at Bay Hill and his place in the record books following the passing of Arnold Palmer in September.
“Having the celebratory drink with him after the win last year, no one else gets to do that anymore and it's unfortunate, it's sad, but that is something that I'll hold very, very special in my heart, because I was the last guy to do it,” said Day, who led wire-to-wire last year at Bay Hill on his way to a one-stroke victory.
The similarities aside, the relatively identical records heading into the final Florida swing stop, the monotony of questions focused on all the familiar areas of interests – his health, his game, his focus – for Day it seems this year at Bay Hill simply feels different.
Not better or worse, just different.