OAKMONT, Pa. -- He's the top-ranked player on the planet, having won seven times in his last 18 starts. He was the betting favorite coming into the second major of the season, slightly ahead of defending champion Jordan Spieth, having finished in the top 10 of the last four majors and the top nine of the last three U.S. Opens. In May, he also won the Players Championship, the next best thing to a major.
But when reigning PGA champ Jason Day struggled to a 6-over-par 76 in the weather-delayed first round of the national championship at Oakmont Country Club, well, many folks probably figured he could start looking ahead to the British Open, which he almost won last year. It matched his worst score in this major (the 2012 third round at the Olympic Club in his second U.S. Open) and left him 10 shots off the 18-hole lead.
Good thing a golf tournament is a 72-hole journey.
The 28-year-old Australian carded a 69 in his two-day second round, coming back early Saturday morning to complete his last three holes and parring them all. Then he went out and birdied four of his first five holes when the third round finally began midway through the afternoon. And just like that he was very much a factor once again.
Last June at Chambers Bay he was the 54-hole leader despite playing the third round while suffering from vertigo, which usually means you have problems simply remaining upright. The fact that he closed with a 74 to tie for ninth, 5 behind Spieth, did nothing to take away from what he'd done. Day has said that going through that helped get him to where he's at today.
He eagled the par-5 fourth, his 13th hole, to get to 5 under for the round and even for the week. He had been 9 back after 36 holes, tied for 45th. Now he was within 4, tied for ninth. Some move. When you're No. 1, maybe that's what you're supposed to do.
By the time he walked off, just before darkness set in, he stood at 1 over, having taken a bogey at the seventh on the way in. He shot 66 and trails Shane Lowry by 8. Seven others are also ahead of him.
He and Zach Johnson, with whom he's tied, are the only two in the top 15 who have won a major. It might be asking too much, but at least he's got a chance. That's more than he had 24 hours earlier.
In 2013, Day tied for second at Merion with Phil Mickelson, 2 behind Justin Rose. That year he closed with a 71.
"The first round kind of killed me," Day said. "If you shoot under par here you're going to pass some people. I was just trying to push forward today.
"It's good to have a major under my belt. Something under par [for a total] gives me a shot."
The British Open can wait.
This article was written by Mike Kern from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.