Sprawled out on the massage table or laid up in the hotel room, Jason Day heard four members of his inner circle trying to persuade him to withdraw from the WGC-Dell Match Play.
Don’t be a hero.
Don’t risk further injury.
Don’t ruin your chances at Augusta.
“I’m glad I didn’t listen,” Day said with a smile, the baby blue World Golf Championships trophy to his right.
It was another eventful week in a career full of them: No practice round at the new tournament venue on Tuesday, a back injury on Wednesday, a return to No. 1 on Saturday and now this on Sunday – Day’s second Match Play title in the past three years, after he stormed past Louis Oosthuizen, 5 and 4, in the scheduled 18-hole final.
Day made such quick work of his opponent that they finished before the consolation match ended. It was the most lopsided championship match since 2008, and it was his sixth worldwide title in his last 13 starts, the most of any player over that span.
“It was a very, very strange week,” Day said. “But I’m glad to gut it out and get the win.”
Oosthuizen actually won the first hole Sunday afternoon, after driving the 393-yard opener, but he got steamrolled from there. The match turned quickly after some shoddy wedge play by Oosthuizen on the front nine and a few sky-high irons by Day that dropped next to the flag. Suddenly, Oosthuizen was 3 down, and reeling, and running out of holes against a relentless opponent. Even when he had an opening, even when Day flared his second shot into the par-5 12th way right, Oosthuizen couldn’t capitalize. Trying to force the issue, he overcooked his fairway wood into the lake, halving the hole and effectively ending his chances. Day closed him out, mercifully, with a wedge to 4 feet on 14.
“You put yourself in a situation where if you play a guy like that, he’s going to take the toughest shot on, and nine out of 10 times he’ll probably pull it off in the form that he’s in,” Oosthuizen said. “You know you need to make birdies. You need to make putts. You’re under pressure the whole time because your opponent is playing that good of golf.”
The worry, of course, was that Day would expend so much energy during his morning semifinal match against Rory McIlroy – a rare tussle between the second and third overall seeds – that he’d come out flat in the second 18. And make no mistake, that battle with McIlroy was draining – seven times in eight tries Day got up and down from around the green, including on the last, when he sank a nail-biting 13-footer to avoid a playoff.
But Day has an innate ability to dig deep, to keep pushing, to drain every last ounce of his ability. He had suggested (incorrectly) that he doesn’t have the ball-striking skills of McIlroy, or the dependable crunch-time stroke of Jordan Spieth, but he does enjoy one advantage against his star-studded peers.
“I just don’t quit,” he said. “And I’ll keep fighting until it’s over, until I either have lost or have won.”
But it’s never that straightforward, is it?
The entire golfing world is now eagerly anticipating the first major of the year in just over a week’s time at Augusta National. The current top ten players in the world rankings are all showing great form and the stage is set perfectly for the Masters.
New Official World Golf Rankings:
1: Jason Day 2: Jordan Spieth 3: Rory McIlroy 4: Bubba Watson 5: Rickie Fowler 6: Adam Scott 7: Henrik Stenson 8: Justin Rose 9: Dustin Johnson 10: Patrick Reed.
Rob Brooks @GolfNation_