Day wasn't worried about 'dry spell'

By Rex HoggardMarch 18, 2016, 7:03 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – There was no concern, no panic, no sense of urgency, just an innate understanding of the natural ebb and flow of his own competitive clock.

Jason Day, after all, has always done things at his own measured pace.

He earned his PGA Tour card in 2008 but needed two years to find a winner’s circle many thought would be a regular stop for the Australian prodigy.

He needed four more years to add title No. 2 and played in 20 majors before finally joining the Grand Slam club last year at the PGA Championship.

So when Day put the finishing touches on his breakthrough 2015 season with a tie for 10th at the Tour Championship last September he understandably took a little extra time to savor the moment.

By his own admission, during his three months “off” after East Lake, he put in about a month of net practice and started this year with something less than his A-game, posting just a single top-10 finish (Hyundai Tournament of Champions) in four starts. 

Yet even as writers opined and analysts lamented his slow start to 2016, Day remained patient, if not acutely aware of the armchair apprehension.

“Seems like you guys had concerns for me,” Day said on Friday at Bay Hill.

It’s the kind of attention that comes with winning major championships and moving to No. 1 in the world, however briefly, and Day would expect nothing less.

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“It’s tough to be in a position we’re in as top-ranked players because everyone is expecting you to do well. Everyone is always watching what you’re doing and critiquing what you’re doing,” Day said.

“It’s harder for us to go through a little bit of a dry spell, more so than the guy who is 125 on the FedEx Cup. I’m OK with that because it means I have to work harder because everyone is telling me I’m not playing well. I should be playing better because everyone is expecting me to play better.”

Day’s answer to all that noise has been absolute this week. On Friday he turned at 9 under and three strokes clear of the field, added three more birdies, signed for a 65 for a 13-under total and promptly was administered a drug test, because ... well, nothing says “random” like a five-stroke cushion through 54 holes.

Day’s play was even more impressive considering he’s never played well during the Tour’s Florida swing, an anomaly compounded by the fact he began his professional career living in a condo not 10 minutes from Bay Hill.

In 18 starts in the Sunshine State, not counting The Players, Day’s best finish is a tie for 17th last year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an oddity Day’s caddie Colin Swatton attributes to the particular short-game demands of Bermuda rough.

It was why Day and Swatton exchanged a high-five when they arrived at Bay Hill this week to see thick, lush over-seeded rough that is more to the world No. 3’s liking.

But it’s not a more familiar grass or the inevitable reduction of rust that has fueled Day’s turnaround this week so much as it is the confidence born from near-flawless execution.

On Friday, he hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation and 11 of 14 fairways, and rolled in 125 feet of putts, perhaps none more impressive than a 36-footer for a closing birdie at the ninth hole (he started his day on No. 10) after a rare foul ball off the tee.

“I felt like I couldn't do anything wrong out there, which was good, and was driving it nice and was driving it really long,” said Day, who normally avoids such optimistic assessments of his own game. “I had several chances to hit a lot of greens and I putted fantastic today. To hole 125 feet of putts was fantastic.”

For Day, comfort equates to courageousness, like his bold blast from a greenside bunker at the sixth hole to 2 feet for birdie with nothing but trouble glaring back at him.

“When you're trying shots that you really haven't put in play before with water behind and things can possibly go wrong, that means it shows that I'm pretty confident with how I'm feeling out there,” Day said.

Day’s 66-65 start marks his best opening effort this year; his 13-under total would have won eight of the last nine tournaments at Bay Hill. He said his driving is close to where it was last year when he won four events in six starts including that first major at Whistling Straits.

“This is not an easy golf course and what he’s done is impressive,” said Zach Johnson, who was paired with Day for Rounds 1 and 2 this week.

Nor is Day’s play an accident.

Since he got back to work following the birth of his second child in the offseason, Day said he’s spent 3 ½ hours a day on his short game, 3 hours on his long game and another hour in the gym.

That’s every day, and that’s why despite a collective concern over his slow start to 2016 he was never worried.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.