Jason's journey: Day learned to succeed by failing first

By Rex HoggardAugust 30, 2015, 11:55 pm

EDISON, N.J. – For a time, unraveling the mystery of Jason Day had been an exercise in psychology.

To observers far and wide he was a bona fide five-tool guy from the moment he arrived at the PGA Tour doorstep in 2008. So much talent, so much desire, so many ways to come up painfully short.

Long even by bomber-circuit standards with decent touch and unfiltered confidence, the meteoric rise we’ve come to expect from such phenoms was slow at first, with his maiden Tour victory coming in 2010, and then seemingly nonexistent.

He came up short to history at the 2013 Masters when Adam Scott became the first Australian to slip into one of the coveted green jackets, an accomplishment many thought Day was destined to achieve.

He was squeezed by the tight confines of Merion at the 2013 U.S. Open, slowed by vertigo at this year’s national championship at Chambers Bay and stunned when his birdie putt at the 72nd hole last month at St. Andrews missed its mark.

For all the power and potential there was something missing, some unquantifiable element that stood between Day and his destiny. That is, until he arrived at Whistling Straits last month.

At the PGA Championship Day overcame the Sunday pressure that had become such a firewall to his major hopes, the season’s best player in Jordan Spieth and arguably the year’s most demanding golf course to break through a grass ceiling that, in retrospect, was of his own making.

In short, student had become teacher.

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That missing element, however esoteric, no longer stands between Day and what he hopes to accomplish, as evidenced by his commanding victory on Sunday at The Barclays.

“It's just something that you have to fail,” said Day, who finished his week in New Jersey a half dozen shots ahead of runner-up Henrik Stenson after a final-round 62. “You fail and you learn. The moment that you start thinking about, 'I can't close, I can't close,' that's when you start not believing in yourself. That's the worst thing you can possibly do.”

Whatever the missing pieces, Day acquired them honestly, through hard work and even harder losses.

Since that heartbreak at the Home of Golf in July, Day has finished first (RBC Canadian Open), 12th (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), first (PGA Championship) and first (The Barclays). During this “dog days” run through the late summer, he’s played his last five events in 73 under par against some of the season’s deepest fields.

Day’s four victories this season are double his career total before 2015 and yet, at least statistically, there are no elephants in the room that would neatly explain the change in his championship fortunes.

Putting is the simplest of answers, but that would be a gross oversimplification considering that he’s always been one of the circuit’s better putters.

Maybe a more detailed explanation would be dramatically improved lag putting, like when Stenson gave Day something to look at on the leaderboard on Sunday, moving to within two strokes with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14. Your new FedEx Cup front-runner answered by rolling in 61 feet of birdie putts at the 14th and 15th holes.

On paper it would explain how Day, who hasn’t ranked outside the top 30 in strokes gained-putting the last five seasons, is second on Tour in putts outside of 25 feet this year, converting 10 percent from that neighborhood.

That improvement, like most things in Day’s ascension to world No. 3 – he can overtake Rory McIlroy at No. 1 next week at TPC Boston depending on a wide range of scenarios, but one milestone at a time - was not by accident.

“We changed the way he was doing his lag putting,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie and swing coach. “We’ve always worked on lag putting, but we upped the ante a little bit and started putting into the hole from 25 or 30 feet instead of just putting to a mark, that way you get more focused on making the putt instead of just getting it close.”

He made plenty when it counted on Sunday at Plainfield Country Club, adding a 27-footer for birdie at No. 10 to his bombs at the 14th and 15th holes, but it was a 5-footer for par at the 13th hole just as Stenson was closing the gap that was the turning point according to Day.

It’s simply human nature that fans remember the walk-off birdie putt from a mile away but rarely talk nostalgically about the gritty par save somewhere on the back nine. Those small battles, however, are a fundamental part of Day’s transition from perennial also-ran to preemptive favorite.

“He was trying too hard to win before. I think he was just getting in his own way,” Swatton said. “Now, he’s allowing those wins to come to him. He’s not trying to force things and make it happen, not hitting the shot that he wants to hit but the shot that he needs to hit.”

As elementary as that might seem, evolution, call it a competitive maturity, is the only explanation that makes sense considering where he started in ’08, filled with potential yet lacking the extra gear that champions find.

“It's not easy, I can tell you that,” Day admitted. “Even though it may look easy, it's not easy. I'm still nervous. I still had thoughts on the front nine, Am I going to win it? But over the years it's starting to become a lot easier.”

Maybe it just seems easy because for so long Day made winning, and conversely losing, look so hard compared to the show he’s putting on now.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry