AKRON, Ohio — It was one thing Thursday when William McGirt was leading the world’s finest golfers at the Bridgestone Invitational. Well, not all of the world’s finest, just the ones who were here.
Nothing against McGirt, who’s a prototype Cinderella story that you root for, but who thought he would go wire-to-wire to win a World Golf Championship? He’s still new to the whole winning thing, coming off his Memorial Tournament victory. It’s different Friday. Your new Bridgestone Invitational leader is Jason Day. You know, the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. Big hitter, the Lama. Good putter. Catching McGirt didn’t seem impossible. Catching Day, even if you’re only a few back, is slightly more daunting.
“It’s going to be difficult this weekend,” Day said after he vaulted into the lead following a second-round 69.
Day was talking about the conditions at the Firestone Country Club’s South Course, where red numbers are suddenly on the endangered species list. Only nine players are under par through 36 holes. Day leads at 4 under; David Lingmerth was at 3 under after shooting the day’s low round, 67 (along with K.T. Kim); and McGirt shared 2 under with Emiliano Grillo and U.S. Open runner-up Scott Piercy after McGirt double-bogeyed the 18th hole for 74, ten shots higher than his opening round.
But Day’s comments may be more accurate in reference to the field trying to catch him. It’s never a good bet to chase the best player in the world, and that is undoubtedly Day. He’s confident and his short game is sharp. Day didn’t have his best ball-striking round — playing partner Adam Scott hit it much better tee-to-green and shot 68 — but he played smart and saved strokes. Day missed nine greens and scrambled for par on eight of them.
“Really, I’m just trying to get it done the best can,” Day said. “Even if I don’t have my best stuff, I don’t care how it looks, I just want to get it done and beat the field if I can.”
He said watching Scott play well today made him feel like a 10-handicapper at times. And he sort of felt like one at the 18th, where he just missed the green and elected to use his putter from the fringe. He hammered the putt five feet past the hole and missed the par putt.
“I took my putter back, it hit the rough, and that threw me off,” Day said. “I immediately hit the ball too hard. It was beautiful watching Scottie hit the ball in tough conditions today but you know, we can all make it look very hard at times.”
The field is still bunched due to Friday’s breezy conditions and still fairly firm fairways. Twenty-one players are within five shots of Day. Nobody is giving him anything. Nobody is kidding themselves, either. Unless he has a wreck like McGirt did Friday, Day is the man to beat. Although Jordan Spieth and Scott, tied for sixth at 1 under par, are notable alternatives.
Is Day one of those frontrunners that other players fear because of his short game and putting? Maybe, maybe not yet. “I’d love to do that,” Day said. “If I keep winning, maybe that will happen over time. That’s what Tiger did so well and he won a lot. You look at the highlights of the tournaments he won, there were so many shots there where you’re just going, wow, how did he pull that off? They could do top 100 shots of his career because of how many good shots he’s hit in his career. “
“You do it enough, people start believing it. I’ve just got to really try to focus on winning. If I can win a lot, then you get that kind of aura effect and people know that you’re around. Greg Norman had it, Tiger Woods had it. It’s difficult to attain, but the only way to do it is win.”
The NBA championship trophy was on the grounds Friday and Day and his wife, Ellie, had their photo taken with it in the clubhouse. “LeBron James didn’t come and tackle us, so that was a neat thing,” Day joked, referencing the Cleveland Cavaliers game where they had front row seats and had James plow into Ellie and give her a slight concussion.
The Days live in Dublin, a suburb of Columbus, and so even though Day is an Australian, he’s an honorary Ohioan. At least in the eyes of the local media, who will take any angle they can get. Maybe a Day win continues this new streak of success. It’s a stretch but hey, that’s we do in the media.
“Obviously the Cleveland Indians are doing well right now, and that’s helping everyone in this city,” Day said. “It’s even stretching down to Columbus, as well, with Ohio State. The sports in this state are doing pretty well. If we could just pick up the Browns, that would be nice.
“By the end of the week, I’m just going to keep grinding it out and see where it goes. I really want to win this tournament. It’s one of those tournaments that’s been on my radar for a very long time, and I’m hoping I’m there by Sunday.”
Day has used that line before when he’s in contention, about how much a tournament means and how much he wants to win it. In fact, he has used it on multiple occasions.
Is there any tournament you don’t really, really want to win, a media type asked him.
Day smiled. “No,” he said. Then he laughed.