Bay Hill victory puts Jason Day's name in Masters conversation

By Jeff Shain
Published on
Bay Hill victory puts Jason Day's name in Masters conversation

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Amid all the jockeying as golf's top talent points toward the Masters, Jason Day's name had gone largely missing.

Jordan Spieth won in Hawaii and contended twice overseas. Adam Scott notched back-to-back victories in Florida. Bubba Watson won in Los Angeles and was second at Trump Doral -- the same sequence he used the last time he conquered Augusta National. Rickie Fowler won in Abu Dhabi and lost a playoff in Phoenix.

Day? After sitting out the final three months of 2015, the PGA Championship titleholder was having trouble getting out of second gear. Among the top 15 players in the world rankings, he was the only one that had gone 10 weeks without a top-10 finish anywhere.

After Sunday's triumph at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, though, Day has himself squarely in the Masters conversation. Just in time, too.

With just 2 1/2 weeks left before the first competitive shots are struck at Augusta National, no one would blame the Aussie for wishing the year's first major started tomorrow. Or perhaps not.

"No, I don't wish it started tomorrow," said Day, who's also signed up to play the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. "I need some rest."

And maybe some time to work out a few niggling kinks. Day allowed a three-shot lead early in Sunday's round slip away by the turn, opening the door for Kevin Chappell, Troy Merritt and Henrik Stenson to make things interesting.

Chappell bogeyed No.18 after a poor drive, and Day potentially could have done the same when his tee shot flared behind the crowd right of the fairway. Day played away from the flag with his second shot, putting it into a back bunker with about 100 feet of green to work with.

With Arnold Palmer himself practically looking over his shoulder from his golf cart, Day blasted to 4 feet to seal the victory. "I could not think of anything else other than trying to get that thing down," he said. "When it came out, I knew that it was a good shot."

If there's anything this year's Florida Swing has taught us, it's that you don't have to be flawless to win. Scott won the Honda Classic with a quadruple bogey on his card, then at Doral with two double bogeys. Charl Schwartzel came from five shots back to win the Valspar Championship. Day grinded out his victory.

"I didn't feel comfortable over any shot out there today," he said.

Even so, Bluffton's Colin Swatton sensed his boss was close. Day's caddie/coach/confidant said he could see signs during their final two days of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, even if it didn't generate anything better than a pair of 71s.

"I saw glimpses of some really good, stellar play on the weekend at Doral," Swatton said. "It was a matter of reinforcing that and getting him to keep working hard. It's easy when things don't go your way to just slack off a little. He didn't do that, and it paid off."

The biggest relief, perhaps, is that Day no longer has to hear all the questions about why his game had stagnated.

Day called it a year after the Presidents Cup, staying home in Ohio to enjoy an expanding family life after wife Ellie gave birth to their second child. He was 10th out of 32 at the Tournament of Champions to start 2016, missed the cut at Torrey Pines and never heated up at Pebble Beach or Doral.

"It was just going to take some repetitions," Swatton said, "to really clock the time he needed to clock to feel comfortable."

Day said: "Everyone was asking what's wrong, what's going on, why aren't you playing well? I just kept on saying to the people, the fans, the media -- just be patient, I'm just going through the process and I'm going to keep working hard. Things take time. It happened this week."

He's certainly not too late.

This article was written by Jeff Shain from The Island Packet Online and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.