Newsmaker of the Year, No. 3: Jason Day

By Ryan LavnerDecember 17, 2015, 1:00 pm

Five – that’s how many times Jason Day referred to the No. 1 ranking during his winner’s news conference in February at the Farmers Insurance Open.

At the time, it was easy to laugh off one of his career goals. Day had just won on the PGA Tour for only the third time in eight years. He was less than a year removed from injuries to his thumb and back. And he was a distant No. 4 in the rankings, behind alpha dog Rory McIlroy as well as Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson.

“I’m very motivated to get to No. 1,” Day said that night, after a hard-fought victory at Torrey Pines, “but I just want to give it 100 percent every day.”

Day’s prospects have always come with a qualifier – if he’s healthy.

The 28-year-old Australian has the physical tools and drive to be one of the best players in the world, but it was just a matter of whether he could stay upright for a full Tour season.

Save for his scary collapse at Chambers Bay, that’s exactly what Day did in 2015, and it translated to by far his best year as a pro – five wins, six other top 10s, his first major and, yes, a brief stay at world No. 1.

Tired of underachieving, tired of injuries torpedoing a promising season, tired of lagging behind the other under-30 stars, Day was more motivated this year than ever before. “I wanted to kick butt,” he said, but no one, not even Day, could have imagined the epic run that he’d enjoy this summer.


Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list


And to think, it all began with another major disappointment.

Just weeks after sharing the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open, Day found himself squarely in the hunt once again at St. Andrews. He surged into the lead on the front nine, but then made 12 consecutive pars to close, none more excruciating than the 20-footer that he left short on the last. Day and Jordan Spieth, both one shot out of the playoff, consoled each other on the 18th green.  

Six days later, in Canada, Day faced a similar-length putt to win on the final hole, only this time he steadied himself with one thought: Make sure you get this one to the hole. When the birdie putt dropped, Day unleashed a torrent of fist pumps and raised his putter in triumph. Afterward, he spoke of a newfound serenity on the course, and it showed when he went on a tear for the next two months.

At the PGA, he shot a record-setting 72-hole score and outplayed world No. 1 Spieth down the stretch to win his first major.

At the Barclays, he lapped the field with a 63-62 weekend.

At the BMW, he nearly opened with 59, stormed out to a huge lead and relished the victory lap that lifted him to No. 1 for the first time.

It’s a testament to Day’s remarkable year that Spieth became the youngest player since 1922 to win back-to-back majors and still wasn’t a lock for Player of the Year honors entering the season finale.

“I felt like it was my time,” Day said.

The Aussie may have shifted his narrative from career underachiever to major champion, but his gutsy performance at Chambers Bay was a reminder that Day still has more red flags than the rest of the world’s elite players.

Cruising along through 35 holes, Day collapsed while approaching the green on his final hole of the day Friday at the U.S. Open. It was a frightening scene – a 36-hole contender, on his back, hands covering his face – and his health became a focal point over the weekend. Grimacing and leaning on his club for support, his third-round 68 propelled him into a share of the lead. He eventually tied for ninth.

Later, Day’s fall was linked to a viral ear infection and he was treated with medication. He didn’t show any ill effects for the rest of the year, but his history of vertigo, litany of injuries and violent swing makes him more susceptible to the DL.

A shame, too, because when Day is right, he proved this year that his top gear is just as breathtaking as McIlroy’s or Spieth’s, with booming drives, towering irons and a soft touch around the greens. One of the breakout stars of 2015, Day helped launch a new Big 3 in golf, a trio of dynamic, eminently likable stars that approach and play the game differently.

And so now, after briefly reaching the summit, Day trails only Spieth in the world rankings, and by a slim margin. Fortunately for us, this battle should continue for the foreseeable future – well, as long as Day remains healthy.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”