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For Jason Day, all major losses not created equal

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- This hurts, but it's not the writhing, seething pain he felt a year ago at St. Andrews, where Jason Day wondered if it was ever going to happen for him in a major championship.

There at the home of golf, Day let an excellent opportunity slip away over the closing holes, missing a playoff by one excruciating shot, the doubts surrounding him growing darker and deeper as he left The Open.

Here, another opportunity presented itself at the PGA Championship, and Day again came up a shot short of a playoff, having to watch from the 18th green at Baltusrol Golf Club as Jimmy Walker holed the winning par putt, defenseless to do anything.

But this loss was different.

The PGA Championship he won a year ago at Whistling Straits helped alleviate a lot of the angst. So did all the success that followed and led him to being the No. 1-ranked player in the world. He has a major, and that can never be taken away.

And then there's the way he played here at Baltusrol, shooting four rounds in the 60s, eagling the final hole to make it interesting, rebounding from two early bogeys in the final round to shoot 67. Day finished 13 under par.

It is kind of difficult to beat yourself up over that.

"I'm a little disappointed, but you know what? At the end of the day, I came in here with not the greatest preparation,'' Day said. "I'm very, very happy with how I played all week.''

Day, 28, now has four runner-up finishes in majors and 13 top-10s. It is an impressive record, no doubt, and he's still on track for a PGA Tour player of the year award after three wins, including a World Golf Championship event and the Players Championship.

Perhaps at some other time he will rue all the close calls. A second major championship is crucial, if being considered among the greats of the game is part of Day's ultimate plan.

Phil Mickelson has often spoke about how important winning the PGA was here in 2005. It was his second major victory, following his breakthrough at the Masters in 2004. Mickelson also said he would win multiple majors, and that one at Baltusrol sent him on his way, as he won the Masters the following spring and nearly the U.S. Open after that. Now he's in the Hall of Fame with five wins at majors.

Like others, Day could point to the unrelenting schedule this year, made necessary by golf's return to the Olympic Games. Just two weeks ago, he was competing in Scotland, and although he didn't contend at The Open, he was there for four days. From Scotland, he headed to Toronto to defend his title at the Canadian Open. Then he came to New Jersey for the PGA Championship.

An early-week cold left him feeling lethargic and in need of rest, so he didn't get onto the course for a practice round until Wednesday. Day wasn't making any excuses, but clearly that's not the ideal way to go into a major championship. Walker, for his part, missed the cut at Royal Troon and didn't play last week. Maybe that was the difference at Baltusrol?

"I think they all hurt,'' said Colin Swatton, Day's long-time caddie and coach. "But it's not like he went out and shot 75. He's won three times, second in a major. It's one of those days where he gave it a go and someone else plays a bit better and gets the job done.''

The circumstances surrounding the weather and the way the final two rounds unfolded also did not help Day.

When play was suspended on Saturday with the leaders never getting on the course, the decision was made to keep the same pairings throughout the third and fourth rounds, in order to speed up play and attempt to get the tournament finished Sunday -- which unfolded better than could have been expected.

But had the situation been normal, Day's third-round 67 would have put him in a final pairing with Walker, who had his own issues to deal with in trying to win his first major.

"Yes, that would have been nice,'' Day said. "It would have been nice to play in the last group with him, just to be able to go back and forth with him, maybe put a little bit more pressure on him, because usually that becomes a match play format, where you're going back and forth. More mistakes or crucial moments can happen in situations like that.''

Day wasn't complaining. He understood exactly why it played out as it did. And he was gracious in defeat, waiting beside the green to congratulate Walker and his family.

So Day won't be losing any sleep.

In fact, he expected to sleep quite well, given the level of exhaustion that came with a grueling final day that ended up being one shot too many.