Jason Day Holds Off Jordan Spieth To Win PGA At Whistling Straits
The late afternoon point by which only Jason Day could defeat himself was the most dangerous. Not only did the Australian have previous for falling agonisingly short on the biggest stages but major upon major has been defined by closing stretch capitulations. Another would have been tough to watch, let alone for the emotional Day to endure.
Day stepped on to the 13th tee at Whistling Straits holding a four-shot lead. There was to be no fatal wobble. Day is no longer one of this sport’s nearly men. He is a major champion who has come full circle from delinquent teenager to one of the finest golfers in the world by the age of 27.
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Day’s US Open was overshadowed by a horrid bout of vertigo which left him prostrate on a fairway. At the Open Championship he shed tears of frustration after leaving a putt to enter a play-off short of the 72nd hole. He was to break down again here, this time in the name of joy even before tapping in his final putt. Earlier, pacing down the sun-drenched 18th fairway, Day’s caddie and mentor, Col Swatton, issued a simple instruction: “Enjoy this, mate.”
At 20 under par Day is only the 13th player in history to win a major with four rounds in the 60s. His last was of 67, sealing a three-shot success. His aggregate score is an all-time major record. One of Day’s key attributes is the ability to score on so many variations of course.
Jordan Spieth, who started and finished day four as Day’s closest challenger, displayed the latest, albeit tiny, signs of fallibility which seemed alien to him earlier in the year. A closing 68 was not enough to keep pace with Day.A tearful Jason Day celebrates after sealing his victory at the US PGA. Photograph: Jae Hong/AP
Spieth can take consolation of second place and the small matter of upstaging Rory McIlroy as the top-ranked golfer in the world. “I will be the first to congratulate Jordan,” said McIlroy. Spieth is also in the record books; his 54-under-par total for 2015 majors has never been matched.
Justin Rose’s challenge was alive after making birdie on the 12th to reach 16 under par but the Englishman double-bogeyed the next hole after receiving a horrendous greenside bunker lie. Rose was to finish fourth, a shot and a place adrift of Branden Grace, of South Africa.
Many expected Day to wilt, not in the stifling heat but on account of the mental scarring that would be only natural after what had gone before. He entered this week with six top-five major placings since the start of 2011. Victory had eluded him in a manner of ways.
And yet Day had played flawless golf until dropping a shot on the 8th and inexplicably chunking an approach shot to the 9th. Crucially he holed from 10ft to save par on the latter as Spieth dropped a shot.
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Grace was, at this stage, the man on a charge. He had done likewise at the US Open. As at Chambers Bay one hole undermined his hopes. The South African missed the 10th green long and left, watching a subsequent chip shot roll back to his feet. Rose suddenly was Day’s biggest danger before he, too, slipped up.
By the 14th Day was holing out to reach the magical figure of minus 20. He missed for par on the 15th but the par-five next would always provide an opportunity which he duly took. All that was required from there was nerve.
Dustin Johnson’s quest was over within one Sunday hole. The 31-year-old took eight at the 1st; it would be tricky for mid-handicap amateurs to do likewise. He was five under on the 2nd tee and 13 under by the 17th, the consequence of six birdies, two eagles and two bogeys. What happened next? He pulled a tee shot into Lake Michigan.
McIlroy’s 69 left the Northern Irishman in upbeat mood. Perhaps a successful defence was always a bridge too far after the ankle injury which has disrupted his year. If his demeanour is anything to go by, McIlroy will relish an upcoming opportunity to make up for lost time.
“I feel like I’ve done well to come back and shoot the scores that I have,” McIlroy said.
“I’m walking away pretty happy. Obviously it isn’t a win and I didn’t get myself into contention but, considering six weeks ago I wasn’t able to walk, it’s not a bad effort.”
One of the best things about the US PGA Championship is the extended time afforded to the victor to bask in his glory. As Day held the Wanamaker Trophy aloft, 235 days stood between him and the Masters. He will arrive at Augusta National with a fresh impetus and mind-set; Australia has been afforded its latest sporting hero. In Day’s case it is not before time.