Jason Day has established himself as one of the game’s most talented rising stars (though he still continues to fly under the radar compared with some of his contemporaries). The 23-year-old Australian has notched seven top-tens, including two runner-ups at the Masters and the U.S. Open, along with breaking into the top ten in the world rankings (no. 8 currently).
There’s just one thing missing that would make a great season spectacular: A win.
“The only thing you can do is keep putting yourself in contention,” said Day, while walking off the 18th green after a practice round on Tuesday at Firestone for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “If you win, you win. Right now, I’ve been putting myself in contention, but I’ve had people birdie the last four holes on me and I can’t do anything about that.
“It’s also a bit about experience where I try to pull off certain shots that I shouldn’t have.”
He couldn’t recall specifics, but said “there were plenty” at the British Open last month at Royal St. George’s.
Day stopped to sign autographs for a small group of fans on the cart path. “Hey Col, can you give him a ball?” he said to his caddie, Colin Swatton, as he gestured to a young boy standing about ten yards ahead.
As Day was walking by, the boy’s father asked if he could sign the souvenir. Jason, who had stepped inside the ropes, tried to reach for the pen and ball, but the kid was timidly staying back. “You can come closer if you want,” said Jason, smiling. “He already thinks he shouldn’t be here,” the dad said.
Our conversation resumed and I pointed out the two putters in his bag, asking if he was switching things up. Indeed, he is. Day decided to play with a TaylorMade mallet prototype putter.
“It’s the putter I won with in 2007,” he said. “I’m just struggling to line up with the other one right now.”
Day, who has one career PGA Tour victory, the ’10 HP Byron Nelson Championship, is looking for a strong week at Firestone, and of course, hopefully his effort will put him atop the leaderboard at the end of play on Sunday. His last event was the British Open, where he left feeling disappointed with his finish, but he left with a valuable takeaway — he needs to prepare better for that event next year.
He’s had limited experience playing links courses, with last year’s Open at St. Andrews being his first time (and first major, too!).
“Links golf is something new to me and something I have to learn over the years,” said Day. “I had a better finish this year — T30 — it’s not ideal, but it’s better than finishing T60 like last year.
“I only had one practice round. I’m going to prepare a little differently next year. That’s probably the biggest key for me is to go over there and prepare differently. I prepared good for the Masters and for the US Open and I didn’t prepare that great for the British Open.”
Jason competed at the John Deere Classic in Moline, Illinois, the week before the Open, which most top players skip, but he’s kept it on his schedule because the tournament gave him a sponsor’s exemption when he was 18. Nice gesture and thought by Day, but not the best way for him to get ready for the Open.
At Firestone it’s back to business and the proper prep for the premier event.
“I think I finished nearly last (in 2010),” said Day. “I can only improve on that — unless I finish dead last again. I like it because it’s a tough course and the best players in the world are here.
“I think I’ll be good as long as I prepare good and get my head in the right spot and try to keep the momentum going,” said Day. “I really want to finish the year off good because I don’t want to play good and then finish bad. I’m hoping for a good one here.”
Day actually placed 22 last year, which isn’t great but not terrible, either.
Similar to some of his colleagues (a la Rory McIlroy), Jason isn’t sure what to expect from Tiger Woods, who is returning after nearly three months on the DL.
“I think Tiger being back is good for the game,” said Day. “The ticket sales probably went up.
“I wouldn’t expect too many big things out of him, you know what I mean? He’s been off for 11 weeks and he’s been hurt. So you can’t expect the guy to come out and win straight away. If he does, this would be the course to do it because he’s won seven out of 11 times. He feels comfortable here. If it were a tournament he’d come back and win after a break, it’d be this one.”
With Day’s stellar career-record in majors — T60 at 2010 Open Championship, T10 at the 2010 PGA Championshp, T2 at 2011 Masters, 2 at 2011 US Open, and T30 at the 2011 Open Championship — he’ll be one to watch at Firestone (which has a major-like feel — more so than any other non-major in my humble opinion), and obviously next week at Glory’s Last Shot at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to play the PGA,” said Jason. “I’d like to have one good shot at winning a tournament.”