For the third straight major, Jason Day has held the 54-hole lead — or at least a share of it — and heading into Sunday’s final round at Whistling Straits, the 26-year-old Australian is alone atop the leaderboard at 15-under, with Jordan Spieth trailing him by two shots. Seeing Day and Spieth’s names near the top has become a familiar sight for golf fans during this thrilling season at the majors, and the duo will play together in the final group of the PGA Championship.
On the 17th, Day looked over and scrutinized the leaderboard as he tried to figure out who he would be paired with on Sunday.
“I’m playing with Spieth,” he said. “So it should be a exciting round tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it.
“But today was a good day. There was some mistakes here and there, but overall I hit a lot of good quality iron shots, hit a lot of great drives out there, drove the ball really well.
“I’m very pleased with how I’m putting. So, one more day left. I got to keep pushing forward, keep grinding, keep doing the best I can do out there and see how it goes tomorrow.”
Day put on quite the show on Saturday. He birdied the first hole right out of the gate, but then made a few sloppy swings that resulted in a bogey on the par-5 2nd (Day actually leads in par-5 scoring this week). He made the turn at 11-under, trailing playing partner and fellow Aussie Matt Jones by one shot at the time.
Then, Day put the pedal to the metal on the back nine, kicking it off by draining an 11-footer for birdie on no. 10, but what really propelled him was the 13-footer for eagle he holed on the par-5 11th.
Day added two more birdies on nos. 13 and 14, but then ran into some trouble on the par-4 15th when he got stuck in a greenside bunker and ended up posting a double-bogey.
“I hit a great drive, hit kind of an average 5-iron in there and didn’t expect to have so much sand,” said Day, who posted a six-under 66. “I was just saying earlier, it doesn’t matter if you’re a good bunker player here, it kind of equals everyone out. Just because of, as you get some lies here, it plugs when it rolls into the bunkers here. So every time you are hitting out of a bunker, it feels like you’re in a plugged lie.”
Day bounced back in Spieth-esque style, though, rolling in a massive 27-footer for birdie on the difficult par-3 17th. He celebrated with a visceral roar and pumped with fists in the air.
“To come back with birdie on 17, a lot of emotion came out of me, just to really get back at it and I’m really excited about tomorrow,” said Day. “To me I’m looking at it as it’s going to be a really fun day. I can only get better from this and it should be an exciting challenge playing against Jordan.”
Now, the question is whether Day can close, as he’s failed to do several times in the past when he’s been in contention. Is he ready? It feels like this is his time. It has to be, right?
“I’ve been here before, so I kind of know what to expect,” said Day. “I haven’t won before, so that’s something that is possibly a new experience for me tomorrow. But overall, I’ve just got to rest up as best I can tonight because I did come out this morning and play early and then had to wait around and then come out later on in the day and play. So rest is important, recovery is very, very important for me and just enjoying tomorrow is my main key.”
The key to Day’s week has been his outlook. In the past, he’s viewed being in contention as very stressful, which has made it difficult for him to be at his best coming down the stretch. This week, he’s having fun and that will be his goal when game time comes Sunday.
“I’m enjoying myself so much on the golf course,” said Day. “It’s been fun to be out here in pressure situations. It’s good to be in contention, especially on Sunday. It’s good to have the lead, so that’s a plus.
“To be able to do what I did, especially on the last three days, put myself in position here, I’ve done what I need to do, now I’ve just got to focus on round four and just kind of keep pushing forward.”
He also needs to remain patient and not get into a situation where he’s pressing.
“I think the hardest thing for a player is when they’re trying to close, they kind of get in their own way, start thinking to themselves if they can do it, if they can’t do it, is the shot too hard, is the shot too easy,” said Day. “A number of things can happen, especially in a final round of a major championship. I’ve done all the hard work right now to get into contention, to have this lead.
“Tomorrow I just need to be patient with myself, need to make sure that I stay disciplined to my targets. It’s all the boring stuff, really, that you guys don’t want to hear. But it’s really the honest truth that I’m trying to get out because I can’t get in my own way.
“The moment I start seeing what Jordan is doing or what Rose is doing or the guys behind me are doing, the moment I see I’ve made a mistake here, I should have done this, I get in my own way, and I can’t let that happen.”
It sounds like Day has learned from his past mistakes and previous experiences. As he’s proven, Day has no problem getting himself into contention, rather it’s the closing out part that he has yet to master. Sunday’s final round is another chance for him to finally secure that elusive first major. However, he has Spieth right on his heels.
The reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion fired a seven-under 65, which included a six-under 30 on the back nine, to vault himself into contention. He kicked off his run with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 11th.
“On 11, I was pissed, so I swung really hard,” said Spieth, laughing. “I lined up over that bunker and said let’s try to kill this. If it’s straight, great, if it has a draw, great. I saw it take a big bounce after it landed. That one is a stroke difference if you hit the fairway in my mind. It actually ended up in a pretty tough spot, a pretty steep downslope, downwind.”
Then, he drained a 16-footer on no. 12 and a five-footer on no. 13. He added two pars on the next two holes before holing birdie putts on the final three holes to post a bogey-free, seven-under 65.
“Once the one on 11 went (in), even though it was a simple up and down, I at least saw another birdie go,” said Spieth in his post-round presser. “The one on 12 was nice. And we’re off to the races. The holes started to look bigger. A lot of times it just takes one to go for me to really find that extra confidence, that extra little pop in my stroke.
“On the back nine it was nice to get in the zone. The holes that I didn’t birdie, 10 just barely missed, on the back nine, 14 was short in the heart. And then 15 was a great two-putt. So, yeah, very, very pleased to have a chance to win another major.”
After Spieth holed great par saves on nos. 8 and 9, he told his caddie Michael Greller as they made the turn that there were birdies to be made on the back nine and that he wanted to get to 10-under at least. Well, he ended up besting that by three shots to get to 13-under for the championship.
When he managed to get to 10-under after the birdie on no. 13, he was fired up.
“When that happened, when that moment happened, we were walking to 16 tee, we said let’s get one birdie on the next three holes, play it smart, hit the green three times, and then we’ll be in good position,” he said.
Spieth, 22, has the chance to become the youngest player since 1934 to win three majors and the youngest player ever to win a Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. However, those milestones won’t be on Spieth’s mind when he tees it up on Sunday.
“Just to try to get my name on the Wanamaker Trophy, that’s about it, that’s the only history I’ll be thinking of when we step on the first tee is you can hoist that trophy tomorrow and make it happen,” he said
“This isn’t as much in my head off the course as it was to try and get the Grand Slam, when I was getting ready to shoot for it the last couple of days at St. Andrews. At this point it would be really cool, but it isn’t a Grand Slam.”
It would still be a hell of an achievement, though.
So, what say you? Team Day or Team Spieth?