03/20/2016

Last week prior to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Jason Day stirred up some controversy. In the pre-tournament press conference, Day offered either support or criticism for his friend and world number one Jordan Spieth. The Australian’s comments could be construed as both. Day said he worried about Spieth’s heavy schedule. “Burnout” was mentioned as well.

It wasn’t necessarily a shot at Spieth. But rarely do you hear players so openly speak to another’s career. In fact, one could argue that Day’s own schedule undermined his Spieth comments. After winning five tournaments in 2015, he had played just three before the API. Spieth risked burnout, sure. Day risked rust.

That is, until he teed it up. Spieth wasn’t in the field this weekend, though it mattered little. No one would have caught Day. He led from Thursday through Sunday, dominating Bay Hill in a manner that was Tiger-esque. That’s no accident either. Even though Day often deprecates himself—he said he was a nerd, socially speaking, compared to Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler—he is one of the few golfers who admits publicly that he seeks out Tiger’s advice. And Tiger, to his credit, provides it willingly.

No one has mastered a course like Woods has Bay Hill. He’s won eight times at Arnie’s place, which bridges on the absurd. Who knows if his wisdom greatly aided Day. After all, you may have heard Day is pretty good in his own right. But it certainly couldn’t have hurt.

Day fired rounds of 66, 65, 70 and 70 to finish at -17 and beat Troy Merritt by a single stroke. What was most impressive was Day’s ability to maintain his composure. His fluttering eyelids will long be his trademark, like Tiger’s fist pump or Chichi Rodriguez’s sword fight. Day busted out the focus following a difficult front-nine Sunday. On six, he pulled his approach far left into the water hazard. The shot never had a chance.

That was just one gaffe in an up-and-down start. Day bogeyed three holes and birdied three more to stay at even par. But if he’s learned anything last season, it’s how to close out wins. Day played the back-nine in a bogey-free, two-under-par.

In what’s becoming a recurring theme, his son Dash joined him in the post-tournament celebration.

Now back to that press conference—Day clearly knows what he’s doing. For years, there was a great mystery about him. He was something of a prodigy, always in contention even at a young age. But Day could never seem to finish what he started. You bet on him at your own risk. Close calls at multiple majors only grew the large question mark next to his name. With the win Sunday, Day has six since the start of last season. Maybe he should refrain from commenting on other player’s schedules. But you can’t criticize his.

Day’s victory marked another distinction as well. He’s now the fifth-consecutive major champion to win on tour (Bubba Watson, Adam Scott twice, Charl Schwartzel and Day). Seven of the 11 winners in the 2016 calendar year have also been major champions. In other words, the best players are playing well. And with the Masters mere weeks away, not a moment too soon.