March 13, 2016 01:02 PM PST
SINCE 2007

History, health unkind to Day

Gameplan
By NICHOLAS VON WETTBERG

The final round of the Open Championship was held on Monday at the Old Course at St. Andrew’s, the famous birthplace of golf. Because Saturday’s scheduled third round had been postponed due to high winds, it became the second Monday finish in Open history, dating back to 1988.



It was well worth the wait. The dramatic final round produced some brilliant shot making, ending in a three-way tie that was decided by a four-hole aggregate playoff.

For Filipino Australian golfer Jason Day, however, the wait to win one of the four majors continues. The successful and very popular PGA Tour veteran had placed himself in great position heading into Monday’s round to breakthrough and bag the first big tournament of his career.

Day, whose mother is from the Philippines, was tied for the lead with two others at 12-under par and better yet, his partner for the final round was 21-year-old American Jordan Spieth, who began one stroke off the pace as he attempted to become the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to capture the Master’s, U.S. Open and Open Championships in the same calendar year.

In the final pairing were Louis Oosthuizen and surprise Irish amateur 22-year-old and UAB Paul Dunne. Scattered amongst the leaderboard was a virtual who’s who of the game, with names and past major winners like Day’s countryman Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Padraig Harrington, not to mention perennial contenders like Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson.

Both Day and Scott were attempting to become the first Australian-born golfers to win an Open Championship since Greg Norman did it in 1993.

Through the first four holes of the links course, Day (all pars) and Spieth were tied at 12-under, while Oosthuizen and Zach Johnson had grabbed a share of the lead, bettering the duo by one stroke.

On No. 5, a 602-yard Par-5, Day, who is the third longest driver on the PGA Tour, drove it about 350 yards with the aid of some positional bounces then chipped it onto the green for an attempt at eagle, which he missed but recovered to sink his birdie putt. Spieth also birdied the lengthy hole.

At this same time, Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, sank his birdie putt to climb into the lead all alone.

Only a shot off, it looked like it might be the moment it all comes together for Day, whose list of top-10 finishes in majors up to that point (7 for 18) couldn’t be overlooked.

His short game was solid even if he had to watch out and avoid leaving a large portion of the endless amount of wedge shots too high, where they get caught up in the gusty 20-30 mph winds. The ball is heavy and doesn’t travel well.

Day didn’t leave many putts short and was rolling the ball with excellent speed. There was nothing about him that indicated he was jumpy, or out of synch physically, like what had happened all too frequently in the past. We’ll get to that part about the health of the 27-year-old in a bit because like it or not it’s become a big part of the narrative when discussing his career challenges.

The Royal and Ancient Club, in Fife, Scotland has been the scene of many great Open Championships, including the game’s greats of America and far beyond. One highlight of the tournament is its international presence, with some of the European Tour’s.

Watching the Open and its replays as a kid in the 1970s and 80s it was always entertaining keeping up with the new list of names on the leaderboard. Now the game is followed and marketed globally thanks to a certain golfer whose name shall remain anonymous (?), but who failed to make the tournament’s cut and left the R&A following Saturday’s weather-delayed second round. It was an early wheel’s up yet again for the one named Eldrick.

Day played his first two rounds with Woods, in fact and received a fair amount of advice and support from the three-time Open Championship winner. Give credit where it’s due on that front.

Weather delays are simply an element of golf in its original form, but you never want the search in the bushes to take all five minutes. But that’s what could have happened on No. 6 when Harrington pulled his drive into the tree greenery (prickly bush perhaps) and used the fully allotted time to search it out, unsuccessfully mind you.

That whole deal very well could have put a damper on any momentum Day and Spieth had after their birdies at the fifth hole.

On the board, you had Zach Johnson at 14-under, after that there were six guys tied at one back at 13-under.

Then in about a minute’s time, there was Scott birdying to tie for the lead, Garcia gaining a stroke with a birdie at No. 7 to get to 13-under and Zach Johnson coming through yet again this time at the 11th to nudge ahead from the pack and climb to 15-under.

Day and Jordan weren’t phased at all by the hold up and both birdied the 6th each with around 10-foot putts to climb to 14-under.

There was a lot going on out there, and some pretty darn good golf being played, all things considering.

But as you turn the corner at the 12th the old course gets much more difficult, with everything leading up to No. 17, the “road hole,” which many consider one of the world’s toughest holes. Add that to the fact the rain was starting back up -- depending where you were out on the course (yup) -- it was going to be a wet ride home for the players and caddies. Conditions towards the later part of the round were pretty miserable and played a factor the rest of the way.

The advantages of knowing the course is invaluable. Day tied for 60th in his first attempt at St. Andrew’s back in 2010.

As the final round approached its end Spieth and Day were unable to grab their piece of history. Namely, they weren’t making birdies. One unexpected visitor to the party was another Australian, Mark Lieshman who tied for the lead at 15-under and eventually ended up in a playoff with Oosthuizen and Zach Johnson.

Day came up one shot short of making the playoff and outwardly showed his disappointment afterwards.

Making his mark in history without an outright win is no easy task but Day is mastering the art (if you want to call it that). He was in the Top-4 after 54 holes in a major for the seventh time since 2010. No other tour player can say that. The same can be said for his overall performance in back-to-back majors.

He became the eighth player in the past 70 years with a share of the lead after 54 holes in both opens. Every other player who reached that feat went on to capture at least one of the tourneys, except for Day.

He didn’t win his coveted major, but after all is said and done one thing the Fil-Aussie will never be called is a quitter.

Day made a statement about his character and sealed his fate and narrative of that as a true competitor, proving that last month when he completed his final two rounds at the U.S. Open as he suffered from an acute bout of vertigo.

Television viewers watched in shock as they saw Day fall on his face and collapse suring the second round at Chambers Bay in Eastern Washington.

Even with a share of the lead, Doctors told him not to finish the tournament. Day said forget that and trudged on like the ultimate trooper. He tied for 9th place at the Open and is currently ranked ninth in the world.

Five years ago in 2010 Day developed the vertigo after it was discovered he had a cyst in a sinus cavity. It came back in full force last month when he developed a viral infection in his right ear.

He’s competing in this week’s RBC Canadian Open.

Aside from Spieth showing a true competitive desire he also showed us that he fully respects the game, greeting eventual winner Johnson after his claret jug victory. It was a shame that Rory McIlroy pulled such a bonehead maneuver and sprained his ankle playing soccer, forcing him from playing in the Open Championship, but he’ll be back for the PGA Tournament in a few weeks. It should be a good time at Whistling Straits, in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Doric and dumber: it may be Golf’s version of a Mecca, but some of the Scottish fans had a bit too much energy, let’s call it, forgetting to turn off their phones or blatantly taking photos during the players backswings or even earlier.