PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The question concerned his path to greatness, a path that certainly seems stuck in the fast lane at the moment. As if on cue, Jason Day glanced at the television monitor over his left shoulder and pointed to the reference about his career PGA TOUR wins, which had just flipped to double digits.
“That’s not enough, and it isn’t enough for me,” Day said. “It’s just 10.
“I want more than 10.”
Shouldn’t be a problem.
Day closed out the first wire-to-wire victory in 16 years at THE PLAYERS Championship, maintaining the four-shot lead he had carried into each of the previous two rounds. His workmanlike 1-under 71 came with little sweat, as none of his primary contenders mounted a serious charge against the world’s top player and new FedExCup leader despite improved scoring conditions at TPC Sawgrass.
Not only was it Day’s 10th career win, it was his seventh in his last 17 starts, a stretch that also includes the PGA Championship. Just five other players since 1960 have produced such a stretch, including Tiger Woods, who had seven such streaks.
No wonder Day’s fellow Aussie, Adam Scott, called Day’s current run of domination “Tiger-esque.”
“I try to imagine how good Tiger felt just playing about five years into his pro career having won like 50 events, and imagine how you’d feel confidence-wise,” Scott said. “Jason must be kind of feeling something like that at the moment. That’s an incredibly nice way to walk out on the golf.”
Of course, any comparisons to Tiger are always risky and usually unfair to the golfers who are linked to him. While Day is 12 years younger than his idol, he’s also 69 wins and 13 majors behind. Not exactly a small gap.
That’s why Ken Duke, among a group tied for third, quickly dismissed such comparisons.
“I don’t think you can put Jason in Tiger’s league right now,” Duke said. “Jason’s playing great. Jordan (Spieth) had a wonderful year last year. Tiger is Tiger. I think that’s enough said about that.”
It’s the fifth consecutive 54-hole lead that Day has converted, and it’s a direct result of his singular drive to maintain his role as the world’s top golfer. As Tiger reveals the secrets to his success, Day soaks them in – and now is putting them into practice. “It’s been an amazing kind of journey for me to be able to idolize him as a junior guy and growing up,” Day said, “and now I’m good mates with him and I get to pick his brain about what he did when he was dominating.”
Whether that translates into any kind of intimidation factor remains to be seen – and it’s hard to imagine guys such as Spieth or Rory McIlroy worrying about such vibes – but no doubt some of his fellow competitors are noticing the conversion rate.
Kevin Chappell, for instance, has finished runner-up to Day twice this year – at Bay Hill in March, and at TPC Sawgrass. Starting the day six shots off the lead, Chappell acknowledged that it was a bit “far-fetched” to think he was going to win Sunday.
“That drives me to get better,” Chappell said. “I’ve finished second to him twice this year, twice in the state of Florida – and that’s a state he doesn’t play well in, right?
“I’ve got to get to work.”
A couple of times this week, including in his pre-tournament remarks, Day discussed the importance of winning THE PLAYERS as it pertains to his World Golf Hall of Fame potential. It was prompted a month or two ago when Day was looking through the necessary criteria of a Hall of Famer. Starting in 2017, PGA Tour players must have 15 wins or two wins in majors or THE PLAYERS Championship in order to qualify. The fact that Day, who’s 22 years away from even being eligible for inclusion, was already looking at the criteria certainly speaks volumes about where he wants to take his career.
Under the guidelines, now all he has to do is turn 50.
“I’m hoping that this doesn’t have to just get me over into the Hall of Fame,” Day said, glancing at the crystal trophy next to him. “I’m hoping that I kind of smash that out of the water.”
In yet another Tiger-type comparison, the key may be his health. Day has suffered a handful of maladies – you remember him collapsing from dizziness last year at the U.S. Open, right? – although so far he’s avoided the extreme injuries that Tiger has faced in recent years.
But 12 years from now, will Day be struggling with back problems created by the huge drives he unleashes with each tee shot?
“Hopefully, he stays healthy,” said 2012 PLAYERS champ Matt Kuchar. “That’s the one thing we all hope. Nobody wants to have an injury derail anybody’s career.
“Certainly his future is bright. His present is bright, too.”
Indeed. Ten wins after Sunday. Don’t expect him to stop there.