Jason Day kept The Players field at bay
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

If there were ever a question over Jason Day’s position as the world no. 1 player, he certainly answered with his wire-to-wire victory at The Players Championship, which boasts the strongest field of the year, not to mention the richest, with $1.9 million to the winner. Day’s commanding performance gave him a four-shot edge over the next closest competitor Kevin Chappell, who was also the runner-up when the 28-year-old Australian hoisted the trophy at Bay Hill in March.

Day, who has seven wins in his last 17 starts, has separated himself from the rest of the “Big Four” — Jordan Spieth (MC), Rory McIlroy (T12) and defending champ Rickie Fowler (MC) — as the most dominant player in the game.

Though Day looked a bit shaky at times on the front nine, he still led by at least two strokes the entire round and made several clutch putts. He said the most significant shot he hit on Sunday was the six-foot putt for bogey on the par-5 9th, after he had flubbed three chips. He actually said he had “too good” of a lie on the first chip and wished he had a worse lie because the ball was sitting up too nicely in the Bermuda grass. The next two poor chips were just mental errors.

“I walk away with a double bogey there, I let everyone in the field, and that gives them a boost of energy, boost of momentum their way to really say that, oh, okay, we’re back in this tournament now,” said Day, candidly. “He’s not playing well, and obviously he’s thinking about trying to win.

“Obviously I was right there next to the green in two and felt like an amateur chopping my way to the pin from only 10 yards off the green. That putt was probably the most crucial putt of this tournament for me.”

He was admittedly tense on the front nine, letting negative thoughts creep into his mind.

“I was nervous starting the day,” said Day, who posted a one-under 71 to get to 15-under for the tournament. “I told Ellie earlier this morning, this is probably the most nervous I’ve been before a tournament round. Look at it on Golf Channel, he’s finished four of the last 54-hole leads he’s had, and I’m sitting there going, don’t choke. I mean, that would be the worst thing ever. Everyone would be talking about it.”

Day composed himself on the back nine — where he went bogey-free for the week — telling himself on the 10th tee that he still was in control. He rolled in a 17-footer for birdie to kick off the back nine, which settled his nerves. Day added another birdie on nos. 12 and 16, but he still had to tackle the par-3 island green 17th.

“17, it’s only a 52-degree wedge, but I was close to hitting it in the bloody water there,” said Day, laughing.

Day now has 10 career wins on the PGA Tour. And as I mentioned earlier, seven of them in his last 17 starts dating back to the RBC Canadian Open last July. Speaking of which, Day’s hot streak seems to have been fueled by his near miss at the Open Championship, where he had a putt to get into the playoff.

“It just flat-out sucks losing,” said Day, referring to St Andrews. “It doesn’t feel good. I don’t like being on the receiving end of it, especially when I have the opportunity to get myself into a playoff. Walking in to see Tom Rinaldi and some of the other guys, straight after I signed my scorecard, having to talk to them about how I’m feeling. It’s not fun.

“I like doing this, sitting next to the trophy and being able to tell you how great of a week I had.

“But once again, that week, something changed. I said to myself, I think you’re ready to finally do this. Probably deep down mentally in my subconscious, I’m not sure, but the whole week I felt calm, and I played some great golf, but then from there it just kind of kicked on, and I haven’t stopped. I’ve played nice, solid golf, but, yeah, I’ve just got to keep focused on trying to win as much as I can.”

And indeed, Day has shown that he’s learned from his past failures and inability to close out tournaments earlier in his career — which is what makes him a winner.

Day has now won three times in 2016, including the WGC-Match Play and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is also his second wire-to-wire victory of the year — he led from start to finish at Bay Hill in March, as well. If we’re looking back to last season, he achieved the same feat at the BMW Championship, the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs. Day joins Tiger Woods (2000, 2002), Tom Watson (1980) and Johnny Miller (1974) as players to win wire-to-wire twice in the same season dating to 1970. What’s more, Day became the first player to go wire-to-wire at The Players in 16 years.

Fellow Australian Adam Scott called Day’s performance as of late “Tiger-esque.”

“It’s that thing I always try to explain how good you feel after one win,” said Scott, who finished T12. “And I try to imagine how good Tiger felt just playing about five years into his pro career having won like 50 events, and imagine how you’d feel confidence-wise, and Jason must be kind of feeling something like that at the moment, and that’s incredibly nice way to walk out on the golf course, and you can see it with Jason.

“I played with him one day this week in practice. You can see there’s that calmness inside him, calm confidence, and the way he’s walking around, he’s got that kind of unbeatable look about him.”

Day, who was inspired by Woods as a kid to take up the game, has developed a strong friendship with the 14-time major champion over the last few years. Woods has taken Day under his wing as his protege, so to speak. The two exchange text messages frequently and Tiger sends Day words of wisdom and encouragement throughout the week during tournaments.

“Keep pushing, yeah, keep pushing, because Tiger says he’s going to kick my butt when he comes back,” said Day, laughing, when told that his average OWGR points are the highest as the world no. 1 since Woods in 2013. “So I’m going to try and extend that gap, so if he does come back and he’s turned into Tiger Woods again, I’ve got to kind of watch my behind.

“That’s the main goal and main reason why I’m trying to extend that lead, so that I stay on top, because at the end of the day, it’s very stressful being the No. 1 player in the world. You’re in the limelight a lot. You’ve got more things to do when you get to tournaments, more things to do off weeks. But I wouldn’t change it in any way because this is exactly where I want to be, and I want to try and stay here as long as I can while I can, because nothing beats this feeling.”

Some more impressive stats and records that Day has accomplished…

PGA Tour Victories (10):
2010 AT&T Byron Nelson
2014 World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play
2015 Farmers Insurance Open, RBC Canadian Open, PGA Championship, The Barclays, BMW Championship
2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational, World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play, THE PLAYERS

*Day becomes the third different player to win The Players while ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking: Greg Norman (1994), Tiger Woods (2001 and 2013) and Jason Day (2016).

*Day now holds the second-most PGA Tour victories by players under the age of 30:
Rory McIlroy     11
Jason Day        10
Jordan Spieth   7

*Day becomes the fifth player since 1980 to win 10 or more times on the PGA Tour before his 29th birthday, joining Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and David Duval.

*Since the start of the 2013-14 PGA Tour Season, Day has the most PGA Tour wins (8) by any player in that timeframe.

*After holding the sole lead after each round, Day earns his third career wire-to-wire win on the PGA Tour (2015 BMW Championship, 2016 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard and 2016 PLAYERS Championship). Since 1970, six players have won wire-to-wire three or more times on TOUR: Tiger Woods (7), Tom Watson (6), Phil Mickelson (3), Nick Price (3), Johnny Miller (3) and Jason Day (3).

*Day joins Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer as the only players to win THE PLAYERS Championship, a major championship and a World Golf Championships event in their career.

*Records set/tied by Jason Day at THE PLAYERS Championship

  • Tied, low 18-hole score (9-under 63) with five players (including Colt Knost/R2/2016)
  • Set, low first 36 holes, (15-under 129) previously 14-under 130 by Greg Norman in 1994)
  • Tied, low start by a winner (9-under 63) with two players (Greg Norman/1994 and Martin Kaymer/2014)
  • Set, largest 36-hole lead, 4 (previously 3 by Lanny Wadkins/1979 and Greg Norman/1994)

*Day’s 2015-16 PGA Tour Season starts-made cuts-top-10s-wins: 10-9-6-3

*Day led the field in Scrambling this week (17 of 20) at an 85 percent clip. Seven of the last eight PLAYERS Champions have ranked inside the top 10 for Scrambling en route to victory.

*Day’s statistics by round:
R1: 8/14 fairways, 15/18 greens, 2/2 sand saves, 24 putts
R2: 7/14 fairways, 12/18 greens, 1/1 sand saves, 24 putts
R3: 10/14 fairways, 14/18 greens, 1/2 sand saves, 32 putts
R4: 8/14 fairways, 11/18 greens, 2/2 sand saves, 27 putts