Day's meteoric rise continues with Players victory

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- It was hardly long ago at all that Jason Day was viewed as a golfer with immense talent short on triumphs.

Where he had once talked the big talk as a young pro, Day had settled into a place that saw the Australian consistently struggling to chase down the game's greats, whether through misfortune, injury, poor golf or timing.

Now look at him.

With Day's win Sunday at the Players Championship, he has seven victories in his past 17 starts worldwide. When you consider the depth in today's game, and how seven wins is a career for some, it is important to appreciate what we have witnessed since the end of a disappointing day last July at the home of golf in Scotland.

"Well, it's Tiger-esque, that kind of run,'' said Adam Scott, who played a practice round with his countryman earlier in the week. "It's the thing I always try to explain how good you feel after one win, and I try to imagine how good Tiger [Woods] felt just playing about five years into his pro career having won like 50 events. Imagine how you'd feel confidence-wise, and Jason must be feeling something like that at the moment.

"And that's an incredibly nice way to walk out on the golf course, and you can see it with Jason. You can see there's that calmness inside him, calm confidence, and the way he's walking around, he's got that kind of unbeatable look about him.''

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Day has sought out Woods for advice. He has made no secret of the fact that the man he once idolized now has become somewhat of a mentor and sounding board.

Woods made a career out of closing out tournaments, and Day is doing the same thing, converting with the 54-hole lead on five straight occasions.

There were a few anxious moments. Such as the 4-putt at the sixth green Saturday. Or the three flubbed chip shots at the ninth green Sunday, where he had to make a 6-footer for bogey to keep a 2-shot advantage.

But after that, Day regained his stride, making birdies at the 10th and 12th holes to push his lead back to 4 strokes. He played the final nine holes at TPC Sawgrass in 33 swings to shoot 1-under-par 71 and win by 4 strokes over Kevin Chappell.

In the span of 10 months, Day's victories include a major championship at the PGA, a World Golf Championship title at the Dell Match Play and now the PGA Tour's signature event, the Players.

There was also a national Open (the Canadian), two FedEx Cup playoff events (the Barclays and the BMW Championship), and a legend's event (the Arnold Palmer Invitational).

And the Players might have been the most unlikely. Before this week, Day had never been better than a tie for sixth, a back-door top 10 in 2011. He had missed the cut three times, including last year when he shot a second-round 81.

This year, he opened the tournament with a course-record tying 63 and never looked back.

"It's such a big accomplishment for me in my career,'' said Day, 28, who now has 10 career PGA Tour victories. "To be able to finally win as No. 1 in the world and then to go wire-to-wire was very special. I'm glad I don't have to play the course again.''

The course that had given him fits became the story Saturday when brutally fast greens turned the tournament upside down while scores soared. Day survived with a 73 when the scoring average was 75.59.

On Sunday, with those conditions tamer, the story got back to the golf, and Day took care of business. Even though at one point he missed five straight greens through the ninth hole and needed a 6-footer for bogey, Day steadied himself on the back nine and never let anyone get closer than 3 strokes.

And to think how despondent he was last summer at St. Andrews, where he was tied for the 54-hole lead and seemingly on the cusp of at least getting into a playoff, unable to make a birdie over the final 12 holes, leaving his last attempt short at the 18th.

Day tied for fourth, one shot out of the playoff won by Zach Johnson, a turning point that could have gone either way. The disappointment did not turn to disillusionment.

"That week, something changed,'' Day said. "I said to myself, I think you're ready to finally do this. From there is just kind of kicked in and I haven't stopped.''

Day won the following week in Canada. Two weeks later he won the PGA Championship. Two weeks after that it was the Barclays, and three weeks later it was the BMW.

Since then, Day -- other than a missed cut in San Diego when he had the flu -- has not finished worse than a tie for 23rd in any tournament.

It's a long way from the time when Day, fresh out of Australia, turned pro as a teenager and pronounced he'd one day be challenging Woods -- well before he accomplished anything. Then came years of struggle without much hardware. A year ago at this time, Day had only three PGA Tour wins -- when Jordan Spieth already had two majors.

"I had to fail a lot to learn about myself and learn a lot about my game to really kind of propel me forward to be in a position like this, and everything that I do today is going to have an effect on what I do in the future as well,'' Day said.

Said Scott: "One of the hardest things to do when you are hot like that is to keep pushing. But he has a very strong desire to achieve so much.''

Earlier this year, there was talk of a Big Three with Day, Spieth and Rory McIlroy. It looks to be a Big One at the moment.