HAVEN, Wis.—The swallows return to Capistrano. The coyote always goes back to face off against the roadrunner. And Dustin Johnson and Jason Day keep jumping back into contention at golf’s major championships.
Johnson shot 66, the low score of Thursday morning’s PGA Championship round, while Day was among a group of players who shot 68s.
Does this sound familiar? Well, does the coyote ever learn his lesson?
The only thing missing from our usual major championship triumvirate is Jordan Spieth and he’s not missing, he just had an afternoon tee time.
Johnson and Day are back for another helping of whatever. It could be victory, finally, at long last. Or it could be more heartbreak. But step one to winning a major championship is to get into contention. (Technically, step one to winning is to file an entry but can’t we all just get along here?) Step two is finishing strong on Sunday.
Johnson and Day have clearly mastered step one. Step two, we’ll have to wait and see.
You already know Johnson’s list of woes. He has been a topic of conversation all week after returning to the scene of his crime—his grounded-club penalty in a bunker on the PGA’s last hole that cost him a chance to win.
Day, a 27-year-old Australian, is having pretty much the same luck, just not in such a theatrical way. A bout of vertigo did cause him to crumple to the ground during the U.S. Open’s third round at Chambers Bay—that was as dramatic as an episode of House.
It was Day, Johnson and Spieth at the U.S. Open. Spieth won, Johnson three-putted to lose and Day, valiantly battling illness, slipped back to ninth. At the British Open, Johnson and Spieth shared the halfway mark, but Day was right in the middle of contention there, too. Johnson fell apart with 75s on the weekend in the wind while Day and Spieth failed to birdie the 72nd hole and earn a spot in a playoff.
At Whistling Straits, here we go again. Everyone supports recycling but really, is there no limit?
Day has nine top-ten majors in finishes, the first of them coming at the 2010 PGA here. He played in the final round with eventual winner Martin Kaymer, by the way. Day has been a runner-up three times. It’s all been a learning curve, he said, even the illness at the U.S. Open.
“I didn’t end up winning but I learned a lot,” he said. “I learned how far I could really push myself mentally and physically even though I felt like pulling out three times.”
Day, ranked fifth in the world, turned a nice round into a good one after he made the turn to the front nine and eagled the second hole. It was big because he risked squandering a great opportunity with the weather. The skies were lightly overcast and there was little wind for most of the morning. Afternoon, it began getting clearer and windier.
“We got the better side of the draw right now,” Day said. “We got out there and got to attack the course. We only got the brute fore of the wind coming in the last few holes. I just kind of hung in there and once I got my first birdie, that got my game going. I played pretty solid today. I’m happy with a 68.”
Johnson was paired with Day, who said Johnson could’ve gone even lower.
“He had a couple of putts coming home,” Day said. “He was very close to shooting eight or nine under par. He hit good putts, they just didn’t go in.”
Players champion Rickie Fowler was the third player in the group and Day watched him take a disastrous 7 at the par-3 third hole. That’s tough to take if you’re the player and not easy to watch if you’re playing along.
“I know exactly how he feels because I just did it last week,” Day said. He made a triple-bogey 8 in the third round at last week’s Bridgestone Invitational.
“There’s plenty of golf left,” said Day, who overcame the blunder to finish 12th. “Other than that Rickie played great. He played solid and was just unfortunate. When you have a bad hole like that, sometimes it takes the edge off looking at your score.”
Day already bounced back from his near-misses by winning the RBC Canadian Open.
“Something I’ve always wanted as a professional golfer is to have the last putt on the last hole to win,” said Day, who holed a 20-footer on the final green at Glen Abbey. “It was very similar to the putt I had at the Open Championship.” Day missed that putt at St. Andrews and missed out on being part of a playoff. “A lot of emotion came out of me because what had happened the previous week. It felt good, it really did. I feel like it changed me and the way I look at myself. I felt very confident in my ability. I came back after that little disappointed and just showed a lot of Tiger.”
The Canadian Open was his second victory of the year. He also won at Torrey Pines in February. So it’s no surprise that he’s in contention again, at least after one round.
It was just a start, and it was a good Day.