What else do you need to know? Jason Day’s cards are all on the table, and by any objective measure he has the strongest hand.
Day, 28, returned to world No. 1 while winning the WGC-Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club last week, and algorithms aside, he deserves to be there. We could do this the hard way with some hifalutin mathematical proof, but suffice it to say he putts better than Rory McIlroy — whom he beat in an epic semi-final at the Dell — and has Jordan Spieth whipped tee to green.
“I mean, he’s a great player,” Louis Oosthuizen said after Day turned him back 5 and 4 in the final. “He hit some amazing iron shots, [had some] amazing up and downs. And he’s definitely, at the moment, a few steps ahead of everyone.”
Golf’s new Big Three — a construct we pretty much invented out of thin air — are turning out to be for real.
All three players advanced out of their round-robin “pods” and into the knockout stage at the Dell, suggesting they’re more than a nickname. But if they have achieved separation, Day is first among equals. He returned to No. 1 when Spieth lost to Oosthuizen in the round of 16 and Day went on to beat Brooks Koepka in the quarterfinals that afternoon.
Day is “a few steps ahead” in several ways. He has a bigger toolset, yes, but he is also unbreakable, his indomitable will noteworthy even on a tour full of them. His most crucial up-and-down par at the Dell came with a halve during the semis, from a fluffy lie above the green at the par-3 11th hole, Day laying a wedge flat and taking a huge swing to stop his ball 12 feet past the hole. From there, Day holed his par putt, after which McIlroy missed his six-foot birdie try. It was a huge reversal. The match stayed tied, and Day birdied the next two holes and hung on from there to take it.
As he’s starting to make public, Day came by his toughness the hard way, surviving a brutal childhood that he first began to talk about in the pages of GOLF Magazine late last year. Neither of his parents tolerated bad golf, with mom Dening getting in Jason’s ear as he walked from green to tee and his late dad Alvin, an alcoholic, simply letting his fists do the talking.
Indeed, Day has weathered so much he seems unbothered when he’s not sharp from tee to green, as he wasn’t at the Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill two weeks ago, and again, periodically, at the Dell at sumptuous Austin C.C. (Day’s back-to-back Ws give him six victories in his last 13 starts.) He got up and down a staggering seven times in his semifinal victory over McIlroy.
“Jason played very, very well,” McIlroy said.
“I wasn’t as tight from tee to green as Rory was,” Day admitted. “I just kept on saying, I’ve got to frustrate him with my short game.”
He did. And don’t look now, but Day is a step ahead of his Big Three bros for another reason: Unlike them he has negotiated the blessings/bogey makers of marriage and fatherhood (twice). Day took three months off after the birth of second child Lucy last November, got off to a slow start in 2016, and now seems to have found his work-life sweet spot. Again. And just in time for the Masters.
It was impossible not to smile as Jason lifted up three-year-old son Dash to kiss the Easter egg-blue Walter Hagen trophy on Sunday, just as Dash had kissed the Arnold Palmer trophy the week before. This is becoming a thing.
Spieth isn’t done, yet, of course. He’s only 22. He won his first three matches in Austin and liked what he saw. But he inexplicably started slicing the ball before his match against Oosthuizen, and lost. On the cusp of the first major of 2016, the defending Masters champion will have a week to figure it out at the Shell Houston Open. (Day and McIlroy aren’t playing.)
McIlroy, 26, isn’t done, either, but his crosshanded putting grip still runs hot and cold. He badly missed his birdie try from six feet at the fourth hole in his match against Day, and did the same at the crucial 11th hole. He missed a five-foot par putt on 15 in his consolation match against Rafa Cabrera-Bello. The surprising Spaniard won three straight holes down the stretch to prevail 3 and 2.
For now, Day’s most formidable opponent may be his own body. His back flared up toward the end of his opening match, but he got stronger through the week thanks to his team: massage therapist Brian Smith, Dr. James Bradley and regular physiotherapist Cornel Driessen. “Strong legs, fast hips, core not able to handle it,” Day told GOLF late last year.
And so his days start with therapy. They end with therapy. He eats on a schedule. And he eats right. “I’m just trying to complete the puzzle,” Day said, “and hopefully when I get done it’s a masterpiece.”
He’ll get to Augusta on Thursday to start prepping for the Masters, and perhaps his first green jacket. Green Day? Hmm. It has a nice ring to it.