Day not getting ahead of himself prior to The Open

SOUTHPORT, England -- Jason Day's golf game is a work in progress on the eve of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

"You need really good balance in this game," he said Wednesday, and the simple fact is that in 2017 life hasn't allowed the 29-year-old to find any sort of harmony whatsoever.

Burnt out by the success of 2015 and 2016, he then had to deal with his mother's cancer scare early this year.

Previously a ferociously hard worker, he now lacked the inclination to hit the driving range; all he wanted to do was spend time with his family.

"When you feel like you're going to lose someone that is very close to you," he said, "there's nothing you want to do more than just be with them. You don't even want to think about playing golf or working. There was a stretch there where I'd just go home and just sit around with her."

His mother recently had fluid in her lungs, and Day is aware that she has kept bad news from him in the past, but the latest prognosis is improved and he feels confident enough to recommit to the game.

"I have to understand that I've got to give myself a little bit of leeway," he said. "Golf is a marathon and hopefully at the end of my career I'm near the top, somewhere I've never even thought I would be.

"I've just got to be patient and let things happen. Because I honestly believe good and big things are coming for me."

Two years ago, The Open transformed his career. Not because it was a victory (he finished one shot outside the playoff in fourth), but because his experience that week on The Old Course at St. Andrews was a tipping point.

Day entered that week as a player for whom the phrase "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride" was becoming depressingly apt. He'd notched six top-four finishes in the previous 18 major championships and had a reputation for not winning as often as his talent and presence on so many leaderboards deserved.

He left the old grey town having apparently reiterated that opinion; for the second major championship in a row (following the previous month's U.S. Open) he'd held a share of the 54-hole lead and left with nothing but a hefty check.

The doubters were mocking and Day was not deaf to the taunts, but the truth was that the lack of a major win hurt him more than it would ever hurt them. The difference was that when he packed his bags that week, he knew something the naysayers didn't.

"It was just a strange feeling that I just felt so calm about things," he said 12 months ago at Royal Troon. "I think subconsciously I just finally got over the hurdle that, it's your time to start winning. I finally found that belief in myself to be able to really say, 'You're a good player. You deserve to win these if you put yourself in these opportunities.'"

If Day had voiced that analysis in St. Andrews, brows would have furrowed, but they would have done so in error.

A week later he won the RBC Canadian Open, three weeks after that he claimed a first major, the PGA Championship. In all he ticked seven wins in the 17 starts post-St. Andrews. The fretter became the finisher: Where he had previously stumbled, he now stood tall.

The irony is that all that success left him exhausted at the end of last year, partly because while outsiders view only the successes when they happen, Day knows that they were the result of a long process.

"The hardest thing in golf is motivation because it comes and goes," he said. "But the discipline needs to be there every single day and unfortunately I wasn't as disciplined at the start of this year as I had been over the last couple of years and the couple of years beforehand, because a lot of the work that went into winning in 2015 and 2016 happened the years prior to that leading up to it."

As a consequence, his game is currently nowhere near the heights it sailed at two years ago.

"Back then I hit it long and straight. I hit my iron shots a lot closer and I holed everything on the greens. This year? It's not as long, not as straight, my iron shots aren't as close, and I'm not holing as many putts," he said with a wry smile. "It's pretty much the perfect formula for not having a good year."

In recent weeks he has rededicated himself to that discipline, but a wariness remains.

"It's very easy to shoot yourself in the foot a little bit, wanting things to happen really quickly," Day said. "Saying that, I've been working very hard. I've been trying to tick the boxes, and hopefully I can see a light at the end of the tunnel."

In one sense he might have Tiger Woods to thank. Back at the U.S. Open, Day shot 79-75 to miss the cut and was texted by the 14-time major champion with the offer of advice. "I didn't call him because I was so angry [at my score]," he said.

But the rage cooled and contact has been made.

"It's great to have a set of eyes like Tiger's, one of the best clutch putters of all time, to be able to kind of see on TV what you're doing wrong. He saw something in my putting stroke, we're just trying to tidy it up a little."

Day has always been consistent at The Open -- his six starts in the championship have all reaped weekend finishes -- but with the exception of 2015, he has never broken 70 for one lap of the course and never finished in the top 20.

"This has always been one of those weeks that has always been a little bit tough for me with my major performances," he conceded, leaving it unsaid that his high ball flight is a potential problem playing seaside golf.

Whatever the reasons, he is tempering his expectations.

"You always have to believe in yourself yet it's easier said than done," Day said. "You can always say that you want to win, but if you don't truly believe in it, it's not really going to happen. I'm just resolved that I'm doing the right things on the course and off it as well.

"I'm not trying to think that I'm coming in here and going to beat everyone else because the truth is that the form hasn't been great. I've just got to start with tomorrow's first shot and hopefully I'm there in contention on Sunday."