Finally healthy, Day's ready for another run at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 9, 2015, 3:14 am

SAN DIEGO – Last year at this time, Jason Day truly believed he was on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the world.

Then he hyperextended his thumb.

Then he suffered a bulging disc in his back.

And then he thought, Well, here we go again.

Dreams of that top spot faded. Again. He watched Rory McIlroy script one of the best seasons in recent memory and open up a huge lead in the rankings.

“It was bad timing,” Day said Sunday, shaking his head. “Really bad timing.”

A few months ago, he sat down with his team (caddie/swing coach Colin Swatton, mental coach, trainer and agent) and said, essentially: Now what?

Day couldn’t go through another injury-plagued season, not after a depressing summer in which he seriously contemplated what he was going to do, and whether he was going to be able to play to the level he was capable.

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That elite level was on display again Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open, where Day erased a three-shot deficit with a 2-under 70 and defeated J.B. Holmes on the second playoff hole.

“I needed this win,” he said. “I really wanted to win.”

Once again No. 4 in the world, Day says he’s never been more motivated than he was this offseason – “I really wanted to kick butt” – and it’s easy to see why.

He was tired of watching Rory dominate.

He was tired of feeling like an underachiever.

He was tired of battling injuries.

For the first time in his career, he didn’t jot down goals for this season. With only two Tour titles in seven years, Day didn’t say that he wanted to have a bunch of top 10s, or to win multiple times, or to capture a major title. No, he simply said this: He wanted to give 100 percent – in every tournament, every round, every day.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I don’t want to go through life thinking about what if I tried a little harder. If I can put in 100 percent every day, really give it a good shot, then at the end of my career I know that it’s been successful, because that’s as much as I could do.”

Last year felt like Day’s breakthrough. He authored a stirring performance at the WGC-Match Play, a victory that he thought would soon propel him to No. 1. But his hyperextended left thumb only got worse. He withdrew from Doral and didn’t play again until the Masters, when he tied for 20th despite not hitting a practice ball for two months leading into the event.

That lingering injury affected him for three months, and it even forced him to weaken his left-hand grip to alleviate some of the pressure. There was the bout with vertigo at Firestone. And eventually, that ailment gave way to another – a bulging disc in his lower back that sidelined him at the BMW Championship. After gutting out a T-4 at the Tour Championship, Day shut it down for the better part of three months, scrapping his obligations in his home country of Australia so that he could focus on rehabbing and building up strength in his thumb and back.

The process was all too familiar. For years Day has been labeled as one of the Tour’s immensely talented but injury-plagued stars. Every time he seemed close to surging forward, he broke down and retreated. An injury to his ankle. His wrist. His thumb. His back.

What followed was the usual finger-pointing, the hushed discussions that Day swung too hard, practiced too much or was just too brittle for a full Tour slate.

“We said one year where you’re fully healthy, it’s going to be a big year,” Swatton said. “This is the start.”

So don’t underestimate the importance of winning this event, in these U.S. Open-like conditions at Torrey Pines.

“If you have a big year you have to win early,” Swatton said. “This will calm him down, but it’ll also give him the sense to say all the hard work is worth it, and the hard work will pay off. From here it’ll only help him stay focused, stay hungry and definitely want to chase Rory down.”

In his last seven OWGR events, Day has a win and six finishes of seventh or better, with a scoring average over that span of 68.36.

On the world’s biggest stage there is a void waiting to be filled, with a diminished Tiger Woods, a dominant McIlroy and a host of occasional winners in pursuit.

Firmly committed, Day is now fully prepared to challenge for No. 1.

As usual, he just hopes he can stay healthy.

“It’s obviously going to be tough to try and catch him,” he said, “but that’s why we are here. We love to compete, and we love to try and see what we’ve got.”

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.