Golf
Sam Bruce, ESPN Associate Editor 23d

Jason Day wants Jordan Spieth in an Australian Open shootout

Golf, Fantasy Golf

SYDNEY, Australia -- Give me Jordan, down the stretch, on Sunday!

That's the message from Jason Day for this week's Australian Open, the local favourite playing the tournament for the first time since 2013, when he finished in a tie for sixth, 10 shots adrift of Rory McIlroy.

One year later, Jordan Spieth made his first trip Down Under and walked away from The Australian Golf Club, the venue for this week's tournament, with the Stonehaven Cup. The American followed that up with a runner's-up finish in 2015 before reclaiming the title in a playoff at Royal Sydney last year.

That certainly makes Spieth the man to beat from Thursday, and Day, who is looking for a first win since his triumph at The Players in 2016, wants to do it the hard way -- battling the American, head-on, when the pressure burns like the Australian sun.

"I would love to play with Spieth [in the] last group on Sunday, that would be the greatest thing," Day said on Wednesday after playing the Pro-Am alongside Lleyton Hewitt, Australia rugby sevens captain Ed Jenkins and comedian Andy Lee.

"He's [Spieth] had some tremendous finishes here in the Australian Open, I think he's won twice. At the Australian Golf Club, it's kind of suited his eye; he hits it very straight, which is what you need around here because when you hit driver around here there are some [tight spots] that you have to hit into because there are some bunkers that are well placed.

"He hits the ball very straight and he hits it above average, which is what you need around here. And if you do that, you've got a lot of shorter clubs in your hands and everyone knows how good of a putter he is. So this course does suit up well for him. I think it does for me as well. As long as I'm driving it straight then I get the same opportunities that he does."

If the Day-Spieth scenario eventuates then it will be a throwback to the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where the pair were also paired in the final group on Sunday. The Australian emerged victorious on that occasion, claiming his first major trophy in the process, but it was almost a game of "cat and mouse" as Day knew one slip-up could prove fatal.

"So Jordan, that year [2015], he won the Masters, he won the U.S. Open, and me and him finished tied fourth [at The Open]; we both had the opportunity to get into the playoff at the British Open at St Andrews -- we fell short by one stroke -- and then we were in the final group again Sunday at the PGA," Day said.

"And at the time, he kicked it on very early and was playing great golf and had been very consistent throughout the whole year; he'd played some really good golf the whole year, and that's why he won [PGA Tour] Player of the Year.

"But that final round, I was just driving it really straight, driving it really long... it's not that I overwhelmed him or anything, it's just that I didn't make a mistake. He would push and make a good par putt, or make a good birdie, and I'd birdie the same hole or make the par with him as well. I knew that if I let the door open a little bit, he would close it pretty quick and my lead would be down to pretty much nothing, and then it would be a match-play format from there.

"So my goal is to keep pushing and not let him in... the biggest thing with Jordan is that he's a competitor. Everyone probably knows the way he talks out there with his caddie... they go over every shot and make sure that every shot is 100 percent the correct shot he can hit. And his mental game is just off the charts. I've said over the last five years he's probably been the most dominant player, outside of Dustin Johnson, and he doesn't have the natural ability such as [Johnson's] length. But he has the mental toughness, probably the best mental toughness out of everyone on tour, and that's what gets him going."

As another example of Spieth's competitiveness, Day spoke of this year's Presidents Cup, in which he and Louis Oosthuizen were facing Spieth, who was caught out on a rules technicality, and teammate Patrick Reed. The International duo wanted to concede the next hole, but Spieth refused that offer and used the setback as the catalyst to power on to a 2 and 1 victory.

Day struggled through much of 2017, seeing his ranking slip to No.12. But he feels his game is in good shape as he seeks to win his national Open for the first time, and add his name to a trophy that features some of the game's greats in Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Peter Thomson and, more recently, the likes of Adam Scott and McIlroy.

"My driving, it's lacked this year and it was only solely because my putting was off," Day said of his frustrating season.

"So usually I gain a lot of confidence in my putting, and it's a double-edged sword because when I'm not putting that great then you lose a little bit of that ability to hole putts when you're out of position. So I didn't putt that great this year and it put a lot of pressure on my driving to hit the fairways. And once again, I was probably thinking about it the wrong way; instead of letting things happen, I kind of tensed up over the ball a little bit and got it [driver] going both ways.

"But since Presidents Cup, the Asian trip that I had, Korea and China, I've been driving the ball a lot better, and that's taken a little bit of pressure off every part of my game and I'm able to give myself a lot more opportunities out there. So fingers crossed I can keep driving the ball better this week and try and get myself into contention."

Day tees it up at 7.05am [AEDT] on Thursday alongside Geoff Ogilvy and Rod Pampling, while Spieth is in the afternoon wave from 12.10pm with Cameron Smith and Matt Jones.

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