Even battling injury, Day a few steps ahead at WGC

By Ryan LavnerMarch 28, 2016, 12:44 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Sprawled out on the massage table or laid up in the hotel room, Jason Day heard four members of his inner circle trying to persuade him to withdraw from the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Don’t be a hero.

Don’t risk further injury.  

Don’t ruin your chances at Augusta.  

“I’m glad I didn’t listen,” Day said with a smile, the baby blue World Golf Championships trophy to his right.

It was another eventful week in a career full of them: No practice round at the new tournament venue on Tuesday, a back injury on Wednesday, a return to No. 1 on Saturday and now this on Sunday – Day's second Match Play title in the past three years, after he stormed past Louis Oosthuizen, 5 and 4, in the scheduled 18-hole final.

Day made such quick work of his opponent that they finished before the consolation match ended. It was the most lopsided championship match since 2008, and it was his sixth worldwide title in his last 13 starts, the most of any player over that span.

“It was a very, very strange week,” Day said. “But I’m glad to gut it out and get the win.”

Oosthuizen actually won the first hole Sunday afternoon, after driving the 393-yard opener, but he got steamrolled from there. The match turned quickly after some shoddy wedge play by Oosthuizen on the front nine and a few sky-high irons by Day that dropped next to the flag. Suddenly, Oosthuizen was 3 down, and reeling, and running out of holes against a relentless opponent. Even when he had an opening, even when Day flared his second shot into the par-5 12th way right, Oosthuizen couldn’t capitalize. Trying to force the issue, he overcooked his fairway wood into the lake, halving the hole and effectively ending his chances. Day closed him out, mercifully, with a wedge to 4 feet on 14.

“You put yourself in a situation where if you play a guy like that, he’s going to take the toughest shot on, and nine out of 10 times he’ll probably pull it off in the form that he’s in,” Oosthuizen said. “You know you need to make birdies. You need to make putts. You’re under pressure the whole time because your opponent is playing that good of golf.”

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The worry, of course, was that Day would expend so much energy during his morning semifinal match against Rory McIlroy – a rare tussle between the second and third overall seeds – that he’d come out flat in the second 18. And make no mistake, that battle with McIlroy was draining – seven times in eight tries Day got up and down from around the green, including on the last, when he sank a nail-biting 13-footer to avoid a playoff.

But Day has an innate ability to dig deep, to keep pushing, to drain every last ounce of his ability. He had suggested (incorrectly) that he doesn’t have the ball-striking skills of McIlroy, or the dependable crunch-time stroke of Jordan Spieth, but he does enjoy one advantage against his star-studded peers.

“I just don’t quit,” he said. “And I’ll keep fighting until it’s over, until I either have lost or have won.”

But it’s never that straightforward, is it?

Whether it’s vertigo at the U.S. Open or the flu at Torrey Pines or his wife getting bowled over at a NBA game, drama has long surrounded Day, and this week was no exception.

He didn’t even play a practice round this week, a bold move with the event moving to Austin Country Club. While walking the course for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, something flew into his eye and he bailed after seven holes. Then, the next day, out of nowhere, his back seized up on the 15th hole in his match against Graeme McDowell. Within 15 minutes, Day was dropping his club after impact, clutching his lower back, hobbling up the fairway and sliding sideways into a bunker. He was in such rough shape that he was fortunate, perhaps, that the match ended there, with “searing pain” running down both legs.

Breathless debate ensued about whether he should continue. Day's medical team – trainer Cornell Driessen, doctor James Bradley and fill-in therapist Brian Smith – discussed their options. But after a long night of treatment, he tested his sore back on the range the following afternoon, ripping long irons to simulate how he’d swing on the course.

“I wanted to win,” he said. “I just want to win. I wanted to win so bad that I felt with how I was playing, I would be holding the trophy at the end of the week. That’s what kept me going.”

After declaring himself fit to continue, Day smoked Thongchai Jaidee in the second round. The next day, he received the break of the tournament, beating Paul Casey after the Englishman conceded after only six holes with a stomach virus.

To suggest that Day simply got lucky with his draw and logged the fewest holes of anyone (101) overlooks his remarkable play. It’s an imperfect stat, sure, but including concessions, he was 28 under par this week. No doubt, the best player won.  

“I would have been very, very disappointed and frustrated with myself if I didn’t get the win,” he said, “because I’ve come so far.”

This week, yes, and also this year.

Prior to Day’s gritty victory last week at Bay Hill, most of the questions he faced were about his slow start. But was it that unexpected? After all, he was coming off a career year, and he’d just won his first major, and he’d ticked off a lifelong goal by ascending to No. 1, and he had put away his clubs, completely, for nearly three months following the birth of his second child.

“It takes time to get back in the groove,” said his caddie and coach, Colin Swatton, and now Day has rediscovered that torrid form, bashing tee shots, hitting moonshot irons and rolling in seemingly every critical putt he faces.

“He’s definitely at the moment a few steps ahead of everyone,” Oosthuizen said.

And the way he’s playing, he’s only gaining more separation.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.