Day sets his sights on becoming World No.1
Post by Golf Journalist Nick Bonfield
I find it strange how Jason Day is often overlooked in articles about talented young players and those with the potential to usurp Rory McIlroy at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. Most such pieces – and I’ve certainly been culpable - will centre on the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler but often neglect to mention one of the very best young players in the game.
Perhaps it because he was injured for much of last season, maybe it’s because, as an Australian, he doesn’t attract as much attention as his American peers, perhaps it’s simply his precociousness leading us to believe he’s older than he is, or maybe the fact that he’s been on tour for a number of years. Either way, it’s worth remembering and reinforcing the fact that he’s just 27 years of age. I think he’d be the first to admit his tally of PGA Tour victories isn’t as good as it should be at this stage – his three could be significantly more had fate conspired in his favour – but I think he’ll be a major champion by the end of 2015.
Day is certainly in confident mood following his fantastic victory at Torrey Pines, and so he should be. He compiled a final-round 70 in testing conditions and once again displayed his impressive metal in the ensuing play-off. After seeing off Scott Stallings and Harris English with a birdie at the first extra hole, Day parred the tough 16th to outduel JB Holmes, who would have secured victory with a birdie on the 72nd hole but remarkably laid-up on the par 5 when the green was in reach with an iron.
Day was understandably buzzing after victory, especially given how 2014 played out after his triumph in the WGC-Accenture Matchplay - he suffered thumb and back injuries and was restricted to just 11 further starts. He even admitted there was a time when he wondered if he’d ever be able to play the game again. But his rhetoric was markedly more upbeat following the conclusion of the Farmers Insurance Open.
“I’m hoping for a good year, hoping to stay healthy and really try and challenge that No. 1,” said Day.
“Everyone knows that you just don't get anywhere in life without working hard and putting the dedication in the profession that you love.
“I feel like I should be winning more, but it's a process and I'm just really happy with how things have started.
“Everything's kind of trending that right direction for the Majors. This played like a US Open-style golf course this week and I'm really looking forward to playing Augusta and the US Open.”
Who could castigate him for such a positive outlook? He’s now moved to a career-high 4th place in the Official World Golf Ranking, and while McIlroy is almost five points ahead, a season akin to the Ulsterman’s 2014 campaign could see Day narrow the gap significantly. This isn’t unfounded arrogance; it’s about setting your sights high. With injuries now behind him and the confidence gained from a start-of-season victory in an event with a world-class field, Day’s mindset is rightfully on world domination. It’s a mark of his mental state and self-belief that he’s prepared to divulge such a seemingly ambitious goal.
Professional golfers often talk about trending in the right direction. Justin Rose did before his victory at Merion in 2013, and Day’s words are along similar lines. He looked set to push on after his WGC Matchplay win in 2014, but you can’t legislate for factors outside of your control. That spell on the sidelines in 2014 has added further fuel to the Day fire and made him even more motivated to push on to the next level.
At such lofty heights, Day’s career will now be defined by his performances in the majors. It’s a test he’s relishing, and one that he’s ready to pass if results in previous majors are anything to go by. In fact, he’s unlucky to be winless in one of golf’s big four. Had it not been for Charl Schwartzel’s four birdie-finish at Augusta in 2011, bogeys at 16 and 17 in the final round two years later and a missed putt on the 72nd green at Merion, Day could already be a major champion.
But what’s encouraging is the fact he keeps putting himself in that position. He boasts a big-game temperament and unshakeable self-assurance - two factors that make him such a threat in the biggest events. Even though he’s yet to win, his major record is hugely impressive. He’s played 15 majors since August 2010 and recorded seven top 10s, including three second-place finishes, a third place and a fourth place. It’s just a matter of time before he goes one better.
This year’s major venues also look well suited to Day. I know everyone is talking about McIlroy for the Masters, and with some justification, but if his performance level comes down from the stratosphere I’d expect Day to pounce. Both the US Open and US PGA Championships take place at coastal layouts with many parallels to Torrey Pines. His ability to grind out scores will be invaluable at Chambers Bay (US Open) and he’ll head to Whistling Straits with confidence after a top-10 en debut there in 2010. As for The Open, his combination of long hitting and putting prowess should stand him in good stead.
What makes Day so impressive is his mixture of tangible and non-tangible qualities. His long driving and ability on the greens is an ideal combination for modern professional golf, and his mental fortitude enables him to bring his best golf to the most important events. His win at the 2014 WGC-Matchplay should have been the catalyst for a move into the world’s top five, but injuries curtailed that surge. Expect that to provide extra motivation to a man who already possesses the necessary confidence, self-assurance and golfing ability to make his ambitions a reality.
Image credit - PGA Tour Facebook Page
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