Wakeup-call hole puts Day back on track


SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – This wasn’t what Jason Day expects from himself. This wasn’t what the golf world expects from the world No. 1.

In a blur of flying grass, poor choices and even worse execution, Day sent his drive sailing into the Baltusrol woods, launched his next shot into a bunker in an overly aggressive bid to reach the green and sailed his third over the green into the type of hay where major championship dreams go to die.

All told, Day’s seventh hole on Friday at the PGA Championship added up to a double-bogey 6, sending the Australian tumbling to even par, closer to the cut line than contention.

“I gave myself a little kick in the bum,” Day said of the moments after his misadventure on the seventh.

Pressed for more details, bullet points even, regarding that internal pep talk the father of two admitted, “A few swear words inside my head.”

Day has spoken in the past about the expectations of being the world No. 1, the heavy weight he feels every time he tees it up to perform up to that standard. This is, after all, the same man who became inspired to play golf by reading a book about Tiger Woods.

It stands to reason then that his performance on the seventh hole just wouldn’t do.

“Just really I played that hole so bad that it was really frustrating for me. Why are you doing that? Why are you giving shots to the field when you don't need to do that?” Day explained. “Don't do little silly errors like that and potentially give them two shots on that hole.”

What followed that impromptu scolding may well go down as the turning point that delivers Day his second consecutive date with the Wanamaker Trophy.

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Day kept it simple at No. 8, hit the fairway, hit the green, make a putt – birdie.

To those with a front-row view, however, Day’s birdie at the eighth was much more nuanced and impressive.

“He had a [approach] shot on 8 that was really cool to watch,” said Phil Mickelson, who was paired with Day on Friday. “I haven't seen anybody with his power be able to hit that shot where we've got 86 yards, a back pin, it's soft and spinning and pitched.

“To take a club that usually goes about 125, hit it 40 yards less than the normal number and skid it in there and get the ball to not spin, his power and his wedge play coupled with his putting are combinations you don't see very often.”

With respect to Mickelson, who is widely considered the greatest wedge player of his generation, what followed from an entertainment perspective was just as impressive.

Day birdied his next three holes after the seventh, took a breather at the 11th before adding four more birdies in a row. That’s eight holes, seven birdies.

“I had some momentum stoppage with the double bogey, but once I birdied [No.] 8, the momentum started picking up and it picked up pretty quick,” Day said. “I felt good on the green; I had to get myself on the green and hole the putt.”

Day would complete his round in 65 strokes to move to 7 under par, just two strokes off the lead held by Jimmy Walker and Robert Streb.

That he’s in contention without making a single birdie on either of Baltusrol’s par 5s for two days is the kind of statistic that keeps other players up at night. That he’s within a layup of becoming just the second player since the PGA went to stroke play to win this event in back-to-back years considering how his week started defies explanation.

Day saw Baltusrol for the first time on Wednesday afternoon. He traveled from the RBC Canadian Open on Monday and took Tuesday off to nurse a cold.

Day contends that the extra rest has helped him keep his focus in the sweltering New Jersey summer, and figures his own lowered expectations given his abbreviated preparation have also been a bonus.

“I think being able to kind of voice where I'm at mentally and physically with my health takes a lot of expectations off my shoulders and lets everyone know that I don't have a lot of expectation coming to the week,” Day said.

It’s standard fare to ask Day about his health given his eventful past, and as he headed home on Friday night he was asked if he was feeling better.

“I'm feeling pretty good. No excuses,” he smiled. “Guys have won on worse. Tiger at the [2008] U.S. Open with a broken leg. I've got a cold. It's not the same.”

Although the diagnoses didn’t match Woods’ at Torrey Pines, the former world No. 1 could certainly appreciate Day’s comeback on Friday.