Track man: Day proves he has game for Sawgrass

By Rex HoggardMay 12, 2016, 7:40 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There were some who didn’t think Jason Day had what it took to be a contender at TPC Sawgrass.

His greens in regulation, they argued, aren't up to the demanding test that is the PGA Tour’s flagship event, and his record at The Players supported that school of thought.

In five starts he’s missed three cuts, posted just a single top-10 and closed his week last year with a Friday 81. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to concede Pete Dye’s swamp sensation isn’t his favorite ballpark.

Even on Tuesday when he spoke to the assembled media masses, the world No. 1 admitted that the Stadium Course is an examination of his least favorite clubs – his 3-wood and 2-iron.

Early Friday, however, the relationship started to change. He birdied his first hole (No. 10), his second and his third, and added another before the turn at the island-green 17th hole.

“I was under par going through my first nine, but there were guys at 7 under when I was at 5 under, and I'm sitting there going, OK, I've got to keep pushing,” Day said. “When you see someone up the leaderboard that's kind of distancing themselves away from the field, you've got to do something to catch up to them.”

Day’s closing loop was even better with birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9 for a course-record-tying 63 and the early lead. That’s 18 strokes better than his second-round 81 last year and light years away from the conventional wisdom that dubbed Day a dubious Players pick.

But the questionable ball-striking that some said made Day a long shot at TPC Sawgrass proved to be a non-story on Thursday with the Australian hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation and ranked fourth in strokes gained-tee to green.

“I just said to him, ‘That’s one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen.’ You’d like to have a birdie putt on every hole, but he didn’t leave much out there,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s swing coach/caddie. “He played really, really well on a course that at the start of the week a lot of people said didn’t really suit him.”

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Thursday will be remembered as one of the more user-friendly days on the Stadium Course. The softer side of Sawgrass yielded an early Round 1 scoring average of 70.185, compared to a 72.38 average on Day 1 last year.

But that ignores Day’s dramatic change of fortune on the Stadium Course, and dismisses his ability to mentally move beyond the baggage he’s accumulated from the course in recent years.

“There was a lot of frustration last year,” Day said. “The funny thing was I think I shot 69 in the first round [in 2015], so I shot 69-81-63.”

It’s not as though the critics of Day’s resume at Sawgrass were wildly off base. For most players, the course is an acquired taste, particularly for a bomber like Day who would prefer to hit driver first and ask questions later.

It also didn’t help that Day’s 3-wood and 2-iron, the required options on arguably the Tour’s most demanding position golf course, aren’t exactly his favorite clubs.

But on Thursday – thanks to a full week back home in Columbus, Ohio, focused on perfecting his 3-wood and 2-iron play – his tee-to-green game was plenty good enough. Despite hitting just 8 of 14 fairways, when he did miss the short grass he did so in the right spots.

“He didn’t play the course any differently, he was just more respectful of how he needed to play it,” Swatton said.

The prime example of this came on the ninth hole, his last. As Swatton explained, they played the hole backwards with Day teeing off on the par 5 with his 2-iron and then launching a 3-wood into a greenside bunker, from where he got up and down for birdie.

For the day, he hit just six drivers, relying instead on those “uncomfortable” 3-woods and 2-irons, and he explained that a little fatigue on Day 1 likely forced him to focus more.

“I feel like I'm a lot more prepared this year than I was last year, especially with how I was playing last year,” said Day, who heard a similar refrain that he couldn’t win in Florida before winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. “I was playing pretty decent golf coming into this event, and I'm playing a lot better golf than I was last year.”

There was a time not that long ago when many of the same critics said Tiger Woods didn’t have the game for TPC Sawgrass, that the layout demanded a style of play he was either unable or unwilling to commit to.

That speculation ended when Woods won the 2013 Players by two strokes for his second victory at TPC Sawgrass.

Day still has three more rounds on what promises to be an increasingly difficult course, but considering his confidence and commitment to playing the right type of golf for the Stadium Course it’s starting to feel like he’s bound for his own statement week.



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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x