Jason Day showed steadiness and resolve and a plenty of power – and then raw emotion – in the 97th PGA Championship, and he needed all of those tools to break through for his first major title with a three-stroke victory over the ever-present Jordan Spieth at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis.
A Columbus resident and a member at Muirfield Village Golf Club, Day, 27, became the Club’s fourth member to win the PGA Championship, joining Jack Nicklaus (1963, ‘71, ‘73, ‘75, ‘80), Gary Player (1962, ’72) and David Graham (1979). In doing so, Day orchestrated a phenomenal comeback story from a scary incident earlier this year when he was felled by vertigo at Chambers Bay in the U.S. Open. There also was the rebound from a disappointing finish in the British Open at St. Andrews.
This time he never stumbled or crumbled on a sun-drenched, breezy afternoon along he shores of Lake Michigan. Well, he didn’t crumble until overcome by tears before he tapped in on the yawning 18th green for a par and the last of his 268 strokes that gave him his third win of the year and fifth of his career.
“I learned a lot about myself, being able to finish the way I did,” said Day, who became the fifth Australian-born player to win the PGA and the first in 20 years, after Steve Elkington in 1995 at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles. “The experiences that I've had in the past with previous major finishes has definitely helped me prepare myself for a moment like this.”
Day fired a closing 5-under-par 67 to become the first player to post 20 under par in a major. More importantly, he smothered any lingering doubts about his ability to close after five top-4 finishes in his previous 20 major starts. He had entered the final day in possession of at least a share of the 54-hole lead for the third straight major.
He left owning the Wanamaker Trophy.
And he got the better of the game’s hottest player in Spieth, the reigning U.S. Open and Masters champion. “He's going to be around in major championships for a long time, and he's going to be the heavy favorite going forward,” said Day, who not only had to contend with the presence of Spieth alongside, but also his shaky 1-for-7 history holding a 54-hole lead. “To be able to hold him off, knowing that he's going to be the best player in the world now, the way I played, it felt great.”
“That was the best I've ever seen him play,” said Spieth, who closed with a 68 and lost while making just four bogeys all week. “He took it back and he wailed on it, and it was a stripe show. It was really a clinic to watch.”
The clinic started early, when Day birdied on four of the first seven holes, and Spieth couldn’t catch up. Neither could Branden Grace and Justin Rose, who each got within a stroke but settled for third and fourth, respectively. Rose, the 2010 Memorial Tournament winner, had a chance to win for the second week in a row.
Spieth lost his bid for the first “American Slam” – winning all three U.S.-based majors – and his chance to join Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan as the only men to win three majors in a calendar year, but he accepted a welcome consolation prize, snatching the No. 1 ranking from Rory McIlroy. He finished the major season with the best cumulative scoring performance in history, 54 under par, surpassing Woods’s mark from 2000 by one stroke, and he joined Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Rickie Fowler as the only players to finish in the top-5 in all four.
“This is as easy a loss as I’ve ever had because I felt that I not only couldn't do much about it, [but] as the round went on, I also accomplished one of my life-long goals and in the sport of golf,” said Spieth, 22, the second-youngest player, behind Woods, to ascend to the top of Official World Golf Ranking. “That will never be taken away from me now. I'll always be a No. 1 player in the world.”