BETHESDA, Md. – The fresh-faced kid from the island keeps putting his name on leaderboards at the majors. Eventually, he’s bound to figure out a way to win one of these.
Were it not for Rory McIlroy, that story line would belong to Jason Day, the player from Down Under who has been doing a very good job playing under the radar at the majors this year.
Day, who was climbing to a second-place finish at Augusta while McIlroy was melting down, was in a tie for third after Saturday’s third round at the U.S. Open.
His round of 6-under 65 began before McIlroy got to the course. It left the Aussie nine shots out of the lead, but still, he’ll have the second-to-last tee time in the final round, paired with the world’s second-ranked player, Lee Westwood.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
“The more times I put myself in this position, the better chance I have of winning a tournament,” Day said.
Odds are he’ll get there. He has six top-10 finishes this year, including The Players, the Byron Nelson and the Masters.
He’s on a steady climb from 224th in the world in 2008 to 18th this year. He’s 23 and off to a good start in the quest to join Greg Norman, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott and all the others on the long list of Australia’s favorite golfers.
Day came into the weekend at 1-over par, 12 shots behind McIlroy, but not willing to give in to the sense of the inevitable that’s slowly smothering Congressional.
“Playing for second place, I guess you’re playing for first loser,” Day said. “I went out there and I just said, ‘Look, I’ve got to put up at least a decent score today to actually have a shot.’ ”
On a day in which birdies and red numbers covered the course, Day fit right in. He made six birdies, not a single bogey and his name kept shooting up the leaderboard. He knew it was possible when he was walking to the first tee box and saw Webb Simpson, who started the day tied for last, making the turn at 4-under par en route to a 66.
“I saw that. I knew the front nine. If you could play well, you could go out and shoot a low score.,” Day said.
So, he did.
And while McIlroy has plenty of mistakes to learn from his Masters finish, Day went through a much different experience at Augusta.
He was playing under the radar – everyone was that day – and suddenly found himself in the middle of one of the wildest endings in the history of the tournament. He birdied four of the last seven holes, making clutch putts at 17 and 18 that put him in position to win. Charl Schwartzel overtook him but the second-place finish looked pretty good on a resume that also includes a 10th-place finish at the 2010 PGA.
Not that either was a stopping point.
“The way I finished at the Masters, obviously gave me a confidence boost coming into this event,” Day said. “But you don’t want to come into this event thinking you’re going to finish great just because of the Masters. Once you do that, you’re going to fall asleep and probably miss the cut. I didn’t want to take it for granted and I wanted to come out here and give every shot 100 percent.”