- It's been more than a year since Jason Day last held golf's top ranking, a position he admits to burning himself out from. Now rejuvenated, recommitted and fresh off his second win of the season, he badly wants make a return.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jason Day isn’t afraid to tell you he was afraid. He was battling demons in his head with about five holes left to play at the Wells Fargo Championship and his confidence was dwindling.
Coming off back-to-back bogeys to be in a tie with Aaron Wise at 10 under par heading into the final three holes of the tournament, Day knew this was a critical character-building moment in his pursuit to reclaim his world No. 1 ranking.
“You’re your own worst enemy out there, especially today,” Day said. “I had my best mate on the bag (caddy Luke Reardon), I was sitting there thinking it’s happening again … I’m sitting there thinking Aaron’s going to win the tournament and I’m going to walk off failing.
“The moments when you win and you don’t have your greatest stuff is the moment when you learn the most. I learned a lot about myself but I learned more about how much I actually wanted to get back to No. 1.”
Day won his 12th PGA Tour event of his career and second of the season Sunday at Quail Hollow Club, beating the field by two strokes at 12 under par and heading into next week’s Players Championship driving as well as he did when he was the best golfer in the world and possibly putting even better.
Day hooked his drive on the par-4 14th into the water following a bogey on 13. He had been scrambling most of the day but was buoyed by his short game, and the tournament felt like it was slipping away from Day and into the hands of a relative unknown.
That’s when he turned it on. He had just three putts on the final three holes—with a touch of luck. He birdied 16 by sinking a 10-footer and survived a scare at the 230-yard par-3 17th. Day’s ball hummed toward the flagstick, and possibly into the same water he found on 14, before hitting the stick and coming to rest 3 feet away for an easy birdie.
Quail Hollow’s 18th hole has stolen plenty of players’ chances here over the years, including Day. But he had already exorcised those demons this weekend.
Last year, in pursuit of his second PGA Championship, Day made quadruple bogey at the 18th to close out his third round and kill any hope of another major victory. But Day hit a nice drive to a four-iron on Thursday to two-putt for par to shake out any jitters. Then on Saturday, his 343-yard drive tailed left near the creek. He rolled up his pants, played the ball above his feet on the embankment and eventually made par.
Day played 18 extremely safe with his two-shot lead. From a safe tee shot, he threw his approach into the rough on the right to avoid the creek, chipped on and made his seven-footer for the comfortable win.
Now he’s back in the top 10, but that’s not what he’s after. Day hasn’t been the world’s top-ranked golfer since February 2017. Since then he’s slipped to 14th in the world after dealing with back issues that haven’t resurfaced this year. Last November, he blew a 54-hole lead at the Australian Open when he shot two over par on Sunday in his homeland.
But things have started clicking for Day this season. He won the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff in January to capture his first Tour win since the 2016 Players Championship. He rolled into Charlotte having made every putt this season inside of five feet, and he leaves with that streak intact.
“I mean, I feel like it's on the end of my tips, it's right on the end of the tip,” Day said this weekend describing how close he is to his No. 1 form. “I'm driving it better than I ever have before in my career. I'm No. 1 in putting and my short game's coming back nicely.”
Tiger Woods opined on what it’s like to be at the top and figure out what’s next. Day has a wife and two children—a third on the way—and Woods said life for Day is much different than the 20-somethings dominating the tour today with time restraints and sleep schedules.
“That's one of the things that I think that he should take a lot away from it, is that he did it under obviously different conditions, different times in his life, and now that he's got a taste of it, he wants it back again. That's cool to see,” Woods said. “He's willing to get his hands dirty again and do all the legwork off the golf course away from tournaments that it takes, the hours upon hours of countless practice that we have to log in, he's willing to do that again.”
Woods sent a text to Day Saturday night as the Australian held a two-stroke lead. “Get this thing done,” Woods wrote to him.
Day admits to being burned out from being No. 1, a post he held the last time for 46 weeks. The time commitments were draining and he was ready to be done with it. But at the turn of the year he decided to rededicate himself to golf and to being the top-ranked player. He’s doing his exercises each morning religiously so his back and shoulder don’t hurt. He’s logging 10-hour practice days followed by a trip to the gym. That formula has gotten him two wins and a second-place finish in his past six events.
Now he’s consumed by the idea of overtaking Dustin Johnson atop the golf world. Day wants to look around the room and know he’s the best. This is what he’s yearning for.
“When you’re walking around and there are so many golfers in this world and you know that there’s no one better than you, that’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Day said. “And I know the feeling and what it felt like to be No. 1. And I knew what I had to do to get there. This is a good kick in the right direction.”