If reaching No1 in the world represents an impressive enough achievement, the immediate endorsement of that status by way of victory in a high-profile event should afford an extra layer of adulation. In Jason Day’s case it most certainly will.
The Australian will arrive at Augusta National for the Masters as the top-ranked player, regardless of what Jordan Spieth produces at this week’s Shell Houston Open. After walking away with the WGC Match Play trophy for a second time in three years, Day also took his winning tally to two in as many weeks. Failure of others to stand up and take notice would represent a serious error; Day is suddenly in the form of his life.
Day did not earn glory at Austin Country Club the easy way. He saw off Rory McIlroy in a wonderfully entertaining semi-final, during which the pair could claim a better ball score of nine under par. Day rolled in a putt from 13 feet on the final green to take the match by a hole.
The clear and present danger to the US PGA champion thereafter was obvious. Day, it was feared, might have expended too much energy and focus during battle with the four-time major winner to be in peak condition to face Louis Oosthuizen. That sense was endorsed within a hole of the final, as Oosthuizen moved one up.
Day’s response was worthy of his status. He was three up by the turn, a position from which Oosthuizen could never recover. Arguably no other player could have either. The ultimate margin of victory was 5&4, which just about illustrated the imperious nature of Day’s Sunday display. There was no disgrace whatsoever attached to Oosthuizen’s inability to keep pace. If Day repeats this in Georgia, hold on to your hats. The only legitimate source of frustration for the 28-year-old is that more than a week has to pass before the Masters begins.
“It feels great to do this. I just kept rolling on from last week,” Day said, before returning to the back problems which threatened to undermine his tournament.
“It’s really tough. A lot of people don’t realise that I get here two or three hours before my tee time, try and get therapy and I’m there like another hour after my rounds trying to get therapy. I’m in between rounds trying to get therapy. It was a little tight late on in the week, but for the most part it really didn’t affect me too much over the weekend.
“I feel good. But I can’t get complacent with how I’m playing right now. It would be great to win Augusta but I’ve got to make sure I get in and do the little things that count towards the big picture. That’s my preparation in getting ready for that week. Rest and recovery next week is huge for me, because it has been a long week and a long two weeks. I will get down there this Thursday and try and do the same old things and hopefully I can pull out a win.”
History provides a warning to Day. Since 2006 13 players have won on the PGA Tour more than once before a tilt at a Green Jacket. None of that group was successful at the Masters, which serves as a possible nod towards the trouble with being in the spotlight.
For the first time in his career McIlroy found himself in the unenviable position of playing out a dead rubber against Rafa Cabrero-Bello. That is, if you ignore the $130,000 (£92,000) difference between third- and fourth-placed finishes.
McIlroy duly looked as if his appetite had been fatally wounded by morning defeat. The Spaniard, who has stated quite a case for Ryder Cup inclusion over five days in Texas, produced a 3&2 win. “I still don’t know how I managed to beat him,” said a bashful Cabrera-Bello. “I am really honoured.”
McIlroy will pass up the opportunity to visit Augusta this week, preferring instead to work on his game at home in Florida. For all that the denouement here was bruising, McIlroy’s game is on its steepest upward curve of the year. Day’s has flown off the scale.
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