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Two-time champ Jason Day trying to write perfect script for final Match Play

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AUSTIN, Texas – Jason Day’s march back to competitive relevance has been unmistakable. Since plummeting to 175th in the world ranking last October, the Australian has climbed back into the top 40 thanks to top-10 finishes in four of his last five events, but nothing portends to the return of Jason Day like the WGC-Match Play.

After the 2015 PGA Championship, which is Day’s lone major triumph, nothing has defined his career like the Match Play.

Matches and scoring from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship

He won this event in 2014 in a marathon 23-hole match against the enigmatic Victor Dubuisson; and again in ’16 in an easier, at least by comparison, 5-and-4 rout over Louis Oosthuizen in the final. That year he also beat Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker on his road to victory.

Even when he didn’t win he was memorable, like in ’13 when he edged Ian Poulter, who was at the height of his match play powers at the time, 1 up, in the consolation match.

Or in ’11, when the Australian sportsman seemed to get the better of him in a match against Paul Casey. Day played all manner of mind games, including walking ahead of his opponents so they saw only his back and forcing his competition to putt everything out. Day defeated Casey, 4 and 2, in that Round 2 match and his legacy was launched.

Perhaps the most memorable Match Play for Day, beyond the victories and the gamesmanship, was in 2017 when the then third-ranked player in the world withdrew midway through his opening day match. In a tearful press conference, Day explained he was withdrawing from the event to be with his mother, Dening Day, who was battling lung cancer.

By comparison, the emotions this week are considerably lighter. The match play format provides Day – who is in the middle of a swing remake with coach Chris Como – an opportunity to test his game in real-time with unrelenting pressure.

“It's forced me to go out there and try and trust it more,” Day said following his second-round victory over Victor Perez, 2 and 1. “Yesterday I hit my second shot on 1, I hit it fat. I'm like, OK, I've got to go out and trust it now. It just kind of forced me to go out there and trust in what I'm trying to accomplish feel-wise in the swing.”

It was more of the same Thursday when Day started his round with three consecutive pars and a swing that felt like a “club amateur.” If his opening effort was quintessential Day, a 4-and-2 romp over Adam Svensson that was capped with six consecutive birdies to finish his round, Thursday was more of what’s become the norm in recent years.

Back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8 dropped Day into a tie and Perez took the lead at No. 12, but for the second consecutive match Day closed strong with birdies at three of his final four holes.

Montgomery takes down Spieth in wild match

Taylor Montgomery knocked off Jordan Spieth on Thursday to go 2-0 in his Match Play debut.

His Match Play record (25-16-0) is a testament to the same grit and determination that made him world No. 1 and has driven him through so many injury-prone years.

“I just don't want to give anyone a free one, like a free round,” he reasoned when asked his match play secret. “I’m constantly just telling the person, showing the person that I'm there, that my presence is there. Sometimes you feel like you're kind of down and out, and then all of a sudden you just get like one break and you're off to the races again.”

There’s probably a life lesson in there for a player who has endured his share of peaks and valleys. In the metaphorical match of his career, Day has found himself trailing in recent years as his injuries mounted and his confidence crashed.

Even now the 35-year-old seems to have a real desire to temper expectations, whether they’re his own or otherwise, and going so far as explaining his swing is a “process” compared to other players.

“It would be great to have the repetition and the swing changes cemented in nicely to go out and feel like you're playing like Rory [McIlroy] where it's just all target orientated,” Day said. “But that's the only way to make change. You have to go out there and trust it and commit to it, and if it happens, great; if it doesn't, then you go back to the range and work on it again.”

Since those early years at the Match Play, Day admits he’s toned down the trash talking and that, like many players, he’ll miss this event when it drops off the schedule. It’s been so much more than just another start, it’s been a bellwether for a wildly eventful career.