Golf

/ Features

  • WGC Match Play

Jason's Day at WGC Match Play

February 24, 2014
Jason Day jumped to No.4 in the Official World Golf Rankings with his win against Victor Dubuisson in the WGC Match Play final on Sunday at Dove Mountain © Getty Images
Enlarge

The comments were met with a sense of amusement as well as admiration. Calling out Tiger Woods as a man who could be overcome seemed foolish at the time, but good for Jason Day for saying so anyway.

The Australian was just 20 then, at the end of his first year as a professional, not yet on the PGA Tour.

"My goal is to be the No.1 golfer in the world and I want to chase Tiger," he said in 2007. "All I want to do is work hard, win tournaments and catch up with Tiger. ... I just want to work really hard and take him down."

More than six years later, at age 26, it's almost unfair to pin that stuff on Day, who won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Sunday over Victor Dubuisson - needing five extra holes - and undoubtedly setting off waves of talk again about him being the next great young player, a Masters contender, the man to beat in the majors.

Whether he won or lost on Sunday really would not have changed this narrative.

But the bottom line is: Has anyone risen to No.4 in the world with as few victories?

And has anyone ever got up and down from more desert cactus than Dubuisson, who established himself as a star in battling back from three down and took the match to overtime?

Day's five-day trudge through the desert at Dove Mountain was impressive, and yet he couldn't close out Dubuisson despite being three up through 12 holes.

Granted, Dubuisson kept it alive with two of the most remarkable shots from all-but-dead cactus lies. But Day could have seen to it that his victory celebration started far earlier.

"It was a long day in the sun," he said. "I didn't want it to go that long. The guy [Dubuisson] has a lot of guts. I'm just glad I could finish it off. But it was a close one."

Day finally prevailed with a birdie at the par-four 15th to win in 23 holes and claim the $1,530,000 first prize and his second PGA Tour victory.

That's not a misprint. Just two PGA Tour victories for Day.

Yep, for all his acclaim, all his close calls in majors, all his hype as one of the top young players in the game, Day's win was his first on the PGA Tour since capturing the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship.

Amazing, really.

A player of his abilities, who has contended so often in majors, had just a single PGA Tour title prior to Sunday.

Day did win the individual portion of the World Cup of Golf last November (he and Adam Scott also won the team portion for Australia) at Royal Melbourne, a victory that earned Day world ranking points but is considered unofficial.

He might be gaining on the No.1 Woods in the rankings, but he has not exactly put much of a dent in the overall victory total. Since the start of 2010, when Woods was beginning a two-plus-years victory drought, the win tally reads 8-2 in favor of Woods. And it was ridiculous to think that anyone was ever going to challenge Woods for overall wins anyway.

And yet, there was something endearing about Day's challenge to himself, perhaps the naivety of youth. Nobody talked about Woods that way in 2007, when he was at the height of his game, in the midst of one of golf's all-time best runs of consistency.

But Day spoke with confidence, perhaps cockiness, and while he hasn't come close to meeting those boastful words, he remains a big part of the conversation when discussing who might emerge among the slew of great young players.

"The great thing about this is every day felt like Sunday," Day said of the five-day, six-match intensity. "It's good experience. It's good to battle your nerves and understand what you can feel under the pump. To keep fighting until the end is really what it's all about. I really wanted this badly."

There has always been the sense that Day could win big tournaments such as this World Golf Championship event. Fellow pros marvelled at his short game and his power. Nobody would have been surprised to see him win multiple tournaments, or majors, by now.

He has played in just 13 major championships and has six top-10 finishes. Last year, he and Scott were the only players to finish top 10 in three of the four majors. Of course, Scott won the Masters while Day went another year on the PGA Tour without a victory.

Day was third to Scott at the Masters and second to Charl Schwartzel at Augusta in 2011. That same year, Day finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy - although by a distant eight shots - at the U.S. Open.

Day's road has not been easy. Day's father, Alvin, introduced him to golf in Australia at a young age, but died of stomach cancer when the boy was just 12. For a time, Day got into trouble, did the wrong things, but seemingly found peace when he met Colin Swatton at the Koorallyn International Academy in Queensland. That helped turn Day's life around, got him devoted to golf, drove him to turn pro at an early age and move to America.

Today, Swatton is Day's caddie, swing coach, confidant and basically a second father. The relationship has been good for both, and there was Swatton - after 39 long holes and some 10 hours - with a satisfied smile.

In the end, it was a great day for both finalists. Dubuisson clearly was disappointed by not winning, but in just four starts, the winner of last year's Turkish Airlines Open has secured temporary membership status on the PGA Tour. And the Houdini act will be talked about for a long time. "For a little while there I didn't think it was my time again," Day said, marvelling at Dubuisson's recovery shots.

Dubuisson can now accept unlimited sponsor exemptions, and who isn't going to hand them out to him after that display? With $906,000 for finishing second, Dubuisson has all but assured himself a spot on the PGA Tour in 2014-15.

And then there is Day, whose name will undoubtedly be among those mentioned in the coming days and weeks as the Masters approaches. His close calls at Augusta National in two of the past three years assures that, and now he has a big victory on his résumé.

But will it lead to a big haul of more hardware? That was, and remains, the big question with Day.

This article originally appeared on ESPN.com

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Feeds Feeds: ESPN staff

ESPN staff Close