A Different Day
What a difference a year makes.
World #1, Jason Day, shot an opening round 9-under par 63, to take a two shot lead at the Players (aka Golf’s 5th Major).
That was 18 strokes better than the last time he played at the TPC Sawgrass when he stumbled to a second round 81 en route to missing the cut last year.
Day’s 63 matched the course record shared with Roberto Castro, Fred Couples, Greg Norman and Martin Kaymer. On a perfect day for scoring 82 players broke par on Pete Dye’s Stadium course. Ironically, world #’s 2-4, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, all failed to break golf’s Mendoza line and shot very pedestrian even-par, 72’s.
The record breaking continued on Day 2 as Colt Knost became the sixth member of the TPC 63 Club which gave him a 2 Day total of 9-under par. Rory McIlroy stormed back into contention with a 64 that included a careless bogey on his last hole, the par-5 ninth. The halfway cut was another record with 76 players at 2-under par or better.
Spieth and Fowler would not however be part of the weekend as both shot 1-under par, 71’s, to miss the cut by a stroke.
Day continued his brilliant play and fashioned a 66 to set a new 36-hole mark of 15-under par (besting fellow Aussie Normans’ 14-under in 1994).The best player in the world took a 4 shot lead over Ireland’s Shane Lowry with a further shot back to American Cameron Tringale, Germany’s Alex Cejka and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt.
What a difference a day makes.
The greens had dried out considerably by the time Saturday’s third round began and the only records being made on moving day would be ones spinning the wrong way. The die was back in Dye-Abolical.
The scoring average for the first two days was 71; on Saturday it was over 76.
McIlroy 3-putted five times as he staggered to a 3-over par 75, that would dash his hopes of a first Players Championship. Lowry, Tringale and Blixt exited the stage while Cejka stood his ground and fashioned an even par, 70, to finish at 10-under par heading into Sunday’s final round.
Day would make his first bogey of the week when he 3-putted the 3rd hole, but still seemed in control of all aspects of his game. And then he 4-putted the 6th hole from 20 feet, rebounded with a birdie on the 7th, double-bogied the 8th and made a birdie-4 on the 9th, his best imitation of Helter Skelter.
Day righted his ship to shoot a back-9, 2-under, 34 that once again gave him command of the tournament, but his struggles on the front-9 were a reminder of how quickly things can change at the TPC.
The best round of the day was authored by 47-year old journeyman, Ken Duke, whose 7-under par, 65 may have been the best round played on the Tour all year.
Japanese star, Hideki Matsuyama, who may be the game’s next breakout player, carded a 5-under par, 67 that left him in a tie for second at 10-under with Cejka and Duke, 4 shots behind Day entering the final round.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s carnage the players were one voice in their criticism of the greens with descriptions that included; shameful, outrageous, unfair and shocking. Several comparisons were made to the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock where the greens actually died on the weekend because they had become too fast and the grass too stressed.
Conspiracy theorists will advocate that the Tour set-up crew deliberately allowed the greens to become so fast in reaction to the low scoring on the first two days. They don’t care if the greens do die because on Tuesday they are all going to be replaced anyway.
Day did not have the complete control of his swing that he had enjoyed for the first three days. He played the front 9 in a wobbly 2-over par 38 which trimmed his lead to just two before he made birdies on the 10th and 12th holes to regain his 4 shot advantage.
It is this kind of resolve and ability to still score when your timing is off that separates a great player from a very good player. Even the best players have weaknesses; McIlroy struggles with his putting (see round 3) and Spieth with his swing on occasion, but there are no chinks in Day’s armor.
Additionally, he has an almost cerebral grasp on the game that transcends a pure physical talent.
Day closed the door on the field with a 3-under par back 9 for a finishing 71 and a 4 shot victory over young American Kevin Chappell.
Justin Thomas, Matt Kuchar, Knost and Duke finished a further stroke back in a tie for 3rd place at 10-under.
The Players is Day’s 7th win on Tour in his last 17 events and the 10th of his career. He joins Greg Norman and Tiger Woods as the only players to have won the Players Championship while ranked #1 in the world.
We have been watching Day with wonder for the last 9 years and his ability to overcome adversity has definitely helped mold him into the steely player he has now become.
One had a feeling that he was ready to ascend to the upper echelon of players after his win in the 2014 WGC Matchplay http://www.birdgolf.com/new-day-2/ and then when he won his first Major in last year’s PGA Championship http://www.birdgolf.com/carpe-diem/ ,but now he is approaching the threshold of greatness.
Another level. A different Day.