Round 4 - Jason Day seals wire to wire win
March 21, 2016
As aggressive as Jason Day looks with a golf club in his hand, his success is geared around patience. That's what carried him to a one-shot victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and put him on the cusp of returning to No. 1 in the world.
Patience works off the golf course, too.
Of the best three players in the world, Day was the only one to shut it down for the final three months of last year. He had another child on the way, but it also was his chance to pace himself for a long year. Even when 2016 rolled around, he played only four times the first 10 weeks.
He didn't look sharp. He never was in contention.
And he never panicked.
''Once you get that opportunity - when you do get that opportunity - make sure you take that chance,'' Day said.
The opportunity arose at Bay Hill, and Day delivered in a big way.
He was one shot behind Kevin Chappell with two holes remaining - two of the three toughest holes on the golf course - when Day hit a 5-iron into the cloudy sky and watched it land softly enough to roll out to 12 feet for a birdie he felt he simply had to make.
The putt looked even better when Chappell, in the group ahead, drove into the right rough on the 18th hole and the ball was buried so badly that Chappell had no choice but to lay up. He wound up missing a 25-foot par putt, and suddenly Day was in the lead.
With his own shot in the rough, Day had a reasonable enough lie to take it over the water and safely into the bunker. At worse, he would get into a playoff. Day was at his best, however, and from nearly 100 feet away, he blasted out of the sand to 4 feet for a par to close with 2-under 70 and beat Chappell by one shot.
He won a trophy, a blue blazer, $1.134 million and one other perk even more valuable - a handshake with the 86-year-old tournament host.
''I was able to walk up there and have a special moment with the King,'' Day said. ''That's something I always wanted to do.''
He had seen so many other Bay Hill winners get that privilege, especially his golfing idol, Tiger Woods, who won Bay Hill eight times. Woods has become somewhat of a mentor to Day in recent years, and the two exchanged texts throughout the week.
''Traded texts last night and this morning,'' Day said. ''It's the same thing. ... 'Just be yourself and stay in your world.' And for some reason, it just means so much more. It gives me so much confidence that a person like that would believe in me.''
Day finished at 17-under 271 and moved to No. 2, close enough that he could surpass Jordan Spieth at the Dell Match Play this week.
He became the first wire-to-wire winner at Bay Hill since Fred Couples in 1992.
Day's victory was heartache for Chappell, playing in his 150th PGA Tour event closer than ever to winning for the first time. Chappell did everything right - two great par saves, a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th to take the lead - on the back nine until his final tee shot led to bogey and a 69.
''I had a chance to win, and that's all I can ask for,'' Chappell said after his fourth runner-up finish on the PGA Tour, and second this season.
Two others had just as good of a chance.
Troy Merritt and Henrik Stenson also were tied for the lead on the back nine. Stenson fell away first, failing to save par on the 14th and hitting 4-iron into the water on the 16th to make bogey. Merritt had the wild ride. After a double bogey on No. 9 to fall four shots behind, he birdied the next five holes, ending the streak with a 40-foot bunker shot that he holed for birdie on No. 14. And when it looked like he was done, he chipped in for par on the 17th to stay one shot behind.
But his approach to the 18th found the water, and Merritt closed with his third double bogey of the round and shot 71. He tied for third with Stenson, who also shot 71.
Day found great satisfaction in this victory because he wasn't hitting the ball well and said he never felt comfortable over any shot, until he arrived on the 17th tee. He made bogey on both par 5s on the front nine as his two-shot lead turned into a two-shot deficit.
And he battled back, winning in style. The 28-year-old Australian ended the Florida swing on an ominous note with the Masters only three weeks away. This was the first time in 23 years that major champions - Adam Scott twice, Charl Schwartzel and Day - won the Florida swing events.
If only the Masters could be the next event. Or maybe not.
''No, I don't wish it started tomorrow,'' Day said. ''I need some rest.''
Round 3 - Jason Day maintains two shot advantage
March 20, 2016
The words Jason Day has used all week at Bay Hill are what he gets from Tiger Woods whenever they talk about playing with the lead.
Patience. Aggression. Extend the lead. And if you're not on your game, post a good score.
It carried Day to a 2-under 70 in rough weather Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, giving him a two-shot lead and one more day to show he's a quick study. He has won the last three times he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
''It's a different pressure, but it's a good, uncomfortable feeling that I've always talked about, that I always want in my career,'' Day said. ''Because I know that if I've got that, I have a comfortable feeling that I'm doing it right. And usually, I'm around the lead.''
It wasn't easy Saturday, even though tee times were moved forward because of a forecast of storms in the afternoon. That didn't keep the rain from showing up, occasionally heavy, or for the temperatures to fluctuate and the wind to swirl.
Henrik Stenson caught up and briefly passed him. Troy Merritt and Kevin Chappell hung around.
''I felt like I couldn't get any momentum, especially with the umbrella up and down, the rain gear on and off,'' Day said. ''All that said, I feel like I stayed patient to ground out a 2-under par.''
Day finished at 15-under 201, two shots clear of Stenson (70), Merritt (67) and Chappell (67).
It was a grind for everyone.
Stenson wasted little time cutting into the deficit when he two-putted for birdie on the par-5 fourth, hit wedge to 6 feet for birdie on the next hole and then took the lead with a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 sixth.
But the next hole was the start of some frustrations. Stenson found a plugged lie in the bunker, didn't try anything fancy and accepted a bogey. He caught two other buried lies in the sand, one that cost him momentum. His tee shot narrowly missed clearing the bunker on the par-5 12th and plugged under the lip. Stenson could only hit wedge to get out and made bogey. That cost him a share of the lead, and Stenson never caught up.
Even so, he is a threat at Bay Hill. Stenson is now 51 under in his last 17 rounds - 16 of those under par - and had a chance to win last year until a pair of three-putts (for bogey and for par) late in his round.
''Hopefully, we're in a different position now,'' Stenson said. ''We need to come from behind and play a really good round tomorrow if we want to have a shot at it.''
Day will be in the final group with Merritt, who won for the first time on the PGA Tour last year at the Quicken Loans National by three shots over Rickie Fowler. Stenson will be in the penultimate group with Chappell, who is playing his 150th PGA Tour event and still trying to win.
Chappell got sick on Thursday and still hasn't quite recovered, which in a way might have helped. With limited energy, he's been trying to keep it simple, and so far it has worked out nicely. Chappell was two shots behind going into the final round at Riviera, which he knew well from his days at UCLA, and he closed with a 76. He played in the final group at Sea Island last year, three shots behind, and was runner-up to Kevin Kisner.
Day, however, presents a strong challenge for everyone chasing him.
Justin Rose (71) and Derek Fathauer (69) were four shots behind and still capable of a rally. No one else was closer than five.
Adam Scott, coming off back-to-back victories on the Florida swing, was trying to at least give himself a chance when he was 9 under playing the 18th. He went into the water with his second shot and made triple bogey, posting a 70 to fall nine shots behind.
Rory McIlroy doesn't have much at stake, either. Whatever momentum he was trying to find ended with an approach into the water on the 18th (his ninth hole), and he made two more double bogeys on his way to a 75. He was 16 shots behind.
Day would love to get back to No. 1 in the world. A victory on Sunday would at least get him within range of Jordan Spieth with the Masters approaching.
''It's good to be back in contention,'' Day said. ''I love the feeling of being in the lead. Now I have to push forward until Sunday is done. If I can scratch out a win tomorrow, it's going to do a lot of wonders for my confidence knowing that if I've held the lead every single day, won wire-to-wire, it's perfect timing with what's coming around the corner. And we're talking about Augusta.''
The last wire-to-wire winner at Bay Hill (no ties) was Fred Couples in 1992.
Round 2 - Jason Day doubles lead
March 19, 2016
Jason Day felt like he was bearing down on each shot. He made it look much easier Friday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Day made a pair of long birdie putts and otherwise put on a clinic at Bay Hill for a 7-under 65 that gave him a two-shot lead over Henrik Stenson going into the weekend.
''It was great,'' he said. ''I felt like I couldn't do anything wrong out there.''
Day was at 13-under 131 and was five shots ahead of Jamie Lovemark (68) when he finished.
Stenson faced a daunting task - eight shots behind when he teed off in the afternoon - and he shot 31 on the back nine for a 66 to stay in the game. Justin Rose also had a 66 and was three shots behind.
''It's motivating,'' Stenson said of the deficit he faced. ''You can't let it be frustrating that you're eight shots back. He played great, and you've just got to go and do the same, and I managed to do that.''
Day, Stenson and Rose will play together Saturday because tee times have been moved forward to avoid the threat of storms.
Rose wasn't bothered to see Day so far ahead. His objective was to take care of the par 5s and keep a clean card, and he did both. Rose is now 9 under on the eight par 5s he has played this week. And he was bogey-free on Friday.
''Yesterday was a colorful scorecard,'' Rose said of an opening round that included two eagles and a double bogey. ''Today, a little bit more solid.''
Day was driving it long and straight, hitting his irons well and making big putts. It's a great combination for anyone, particularly a player who reached No. 1 in the world last year by winning four out of six tournaments, including his first major.
Rory McIlroy was able to watch the whole show.
McIlroy, who opened with a 75, was in the group behind Day and saw the Australian start to pull away from the field. McIlroy had his own issues on Friday, starting with a chance to play for two more days. He handled that with ease, making four birdies on the back nine to get above the cut line and posting a 67.
But he was all but ready to concede that the tournament was out of his reach.
''I was looking at Jason in front of me and I was thinking if I could maybe get within six going into the weekend,'' McIlroy said. ''And now it's 11. ... Even playing well, I'm not sure that's quite going to be enough that far behind Jason. At the same time I can get confidence from that and bring it on to the next week and ultimately into the Masters.''
Stanford junior Maverick McNealy, chosen to play by his colleagues at the Palmer Cup, had a 71 and was at 4-under 140. It's the second straight week that an amateur has made the cut; Georgia senior Lee McCoy finished fourth last week in the Valspar Championship.
U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau shot another 72 and made the cut on the number at even-par 144.
Day, however, appeared to be in his own world on the immaculate Bay Hill course.
A pair of two-putt birdies on the par 5s on the back nine helped him extend his lead, and he added a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th. It was after Day had to scramble for par on the par-5 fourth hole, making a 10-foot putt, that he took off. He rolled in a 10-foot birdie on the next hole, got up-and-down from a bunker for birdie on the par-5 sixth and finished his round with a 35-foot birdie on the ninth hole.
''The total that he's on now, 13 under, I thought that was going to have a great chance at the end of the week,'' McIlroy said. ''I thought something around 12 under was going to be right there. For him to do that after two days is pretty spectacular. I think everyone has got their work cut out to try and catch him.''
The timing is good for Day, who had a sluggish start to the year after taking three months off at the end of 2015. He has only Bay Hill and the Dell Match Play next week before the Masters, and he thought it would be helpful to at least feel the pressure of contention before Augusta National.
Stenson could be the guy to provide it.
He thought he had Bay Hill won last year until bogeys late in his round. He was still seven shots back Friday when he made the turn and was close to flawless. Stenson had two-putt birdies on both par 5s, made a 5-foot birdie on the 10th and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 14th. The only green he missed was on the 17th hole, and he finished with a 20-foot birdie on the 18th.
''There's a lot of intimidating shots,'' Stenson said. ''You've got to be clear on what you want to do and try and execute them well.''
Round 1 - Late surge lifts Jason Day in to lead
March 18, 2016
Jason Day felt he was playing better. He finally had a score to show for it Thursday at Bay Hill.
Day one-putted his last seven holes, including a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th to take the lead and two tough par saves at the end for a 6-under 66 and a one-shot lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Among those one shot behind was Adam Scott, which was no surprise. Scott is the hottest player in golf, coming off two straight victories at the Honda Classic and the Cadillac Championship at Doral, and he played bogey-free in benign weather and on a course where no blade of grass seems to be out of place.
Day hasn't played enough to have serious problems with his game, though he missed the cut at Torrey Pines and finished a combined 35 shots out of the lead in the other three tournaments he entered this year. In the five tournaments since his last victory in September, he hasn't finished within seven shots of the lead.
''There was no sense of urgency at all for me, really,'' Day said. ''I just kept on saying, 'Just make sure you stay patient and things will happen, it will happen.' I just got to make sure I get the reps under my belt and hope it will work. This is one good round, one good round in the right direction. ... So that helps.''
Rory McIlroy made a pair of double bogeys and opened with a 75, leaving him in danger of missing his second straight cut against a full field.
He hit his opening tee shot out-of-bounds and made his other double bogey with a shot into the water on No. 8. McIlroy hit two other shots into the water and escaped with par, and he made par putts of 10 feet, 15 feet and 25 feet.
''It probably could have been a few worse,'' McIlroy said. ''I end up shooting this. I'll get some good work done on the range tonight and come out tomorrow and play a good round of golf to get myself into the red numbers, at least be here for the weekend (and) I can make a charge.''
Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman, Brendan Steele and Troy Merritt also were at 67. The group at 68 included the resurgent K.J. Choi and Justin Rose, who made two eagles.
Day doesn't have a great history in his limited time at Bay Hill. Going into Thursday, he had broken 70 only three times in 14 rounds, nothing lower than 68. He only had one bad swing, a tee shot that soared right and out of bounds on the ninth hole for a double bogey. But he played the last seven holes in 5 under, including the 6-iron he hit to within 10 feet on 16.
Equally satisfying were the par saves from the bunker on the par-3 17th, where he blasted out to 5 feet, and a par on the final hole when he chipped to 10 feet.
Day has Bay Hill and the Dell Match Play next week before preparing for the Masters.
''I'm just trying to win a tournament right now,'' Day said. ''I'm really thinking about this week and not trying to think about too far ahead with what's coming up with the Match Play and obviously Augusta. It's good to shoot the score that I did today because it does a lot for my confidence, and I'm just hoping that I can keep it going for the next three days after this.''
Scott wasn't sure if he hit the ball badly, or it just seemed like that because the way he has been playing.
''I hit so many good shots the last few weeks,'' he said. ''Didn't hit terribly bad shots today. My short game was there. That's the kind of days you're almost most satisfied with are days like today when you shoot your lowest.''
But he doesn't suspect that will last, especially with the course in such great shape and so many scores in the 60s.
''On one day, that's OK,'' he said. ''But I'm going to have to sharpen up, I think, to contend this week. The course is so pure, conditions are really good. Someone who is hitting it good is going to make a lot of putts because the greens are rolling pure. If you can get it inside 20 feet you're feeling like you're going to make everything.''
DIVOTS: Matt Kuchar had three of his fingernails painted green in honor of St. Patrick's Day. ... Ian Poulter was challenging for the lead until making two double bogeys over his final four holes. Poulter is the first alternate for the Dell Match Play next week. ... Former British Open champion Ben Curtis, playing for the first time since August, opened with an 82. He is playing on a sponsor's exemption. ... Maverick McNealy of Stanford had a 69.
|T36||KOR||Byeong Hun An||-5||74||70||67||72||283|
|T46||USA||Charles Howell III||-3||72||71||68||74||285|
|T57||USA||Billy Hurley III||-1||69||70||73||75||287|
|T63||KOR||Si Woo Kim||1||70||74||75||70||289|
|T68||USA||Davis Love III||2||72||71||78||69||290|
|CUT||RSA||Tyrone Van Aswegen||1||72||73||-||-||145|
|CUT||ZIM||Brendon de Jonge||2||71||75||-||-||146|
|CUT||POR||Ricardo Melo Gouveia||3||73||74||-||-||147|
|CUT||USA||Harold Varner III||3||73||74||-||-||147|