Jason Day adopted Central Ohio, and vice versa.
This week, the relationship will carry even more meaning when the transplanted Aussie tees it up in the Memorial at Muirfield Village, in front of tournament host and club owner Jack Nicklaus, as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings.
Day lives about 20 minutes away in Westerville, Ohio.
“It really is exciting to be able to play here,” said Day, who has won seven of his past 17 events, including the PGA Championship and the Players Championship. “To be able to win in front of Jack and the fans here, it would be obviously a great honor.
“Obviously, this is my home course. … I play this course a lot, and I practice out here pretty much every day. So I’ve been able to get along with — become friends with a lot of members here. My wife’s side of the family only live an hour away. …
“I try to put that out of my head, because that obviously can be a double-edged sword, where you put a little bit too much pressure on yourself.”
The year in golf started with a lot of talk about a new Big Three, reminiscent of the days of Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player of South Africa.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland dominated the game two years ago to take the top ranking. Jordan Spieth took over last year as Day was just starting to make his mark.
It was also thought that Rickie Fowler might make it a Big Four.
Then Day won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the end of the Florida swing, routed Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, 5 and 4, to win the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship for the second time, and blew away the best field of the season by four strokes in the Players.
Day’s 7-for-17 streak reminded people a little of runs by Tiger Woods, who has become a confidante of the Aussie.
“That’s great to be in the same sentence as Tiger,” said Day, who has claimed eight of his 10 career PGA Tour victories in the past two years. “You know, it’s only half the year, so I’ve got plenty of opportunities to try and win some more. Like I said out there, I’ve never been more motivated to be No. 1 in the world. I’ve never been more motivated to try to extend that lead from one to two.
“All the hard work that I’ve put into my game right now has paid off, but I’ve got to keep working hard to win as much as I can. But it’s very pleasing and satisfying to hear players (praising) my game.”
Day was No. 1 for two weeks in October, and after regaining the top spot from Spieth at the end of March, he has held it for 13 weeks.
His motivation is to keep widening the gap, as Woods did during his reign.
“Keep pushing, yeah, keep pushing, because Tiger says he’s going to kick my butt when he comes back (from back surgery),” Day said at the Players. “So I’m going to try and extend that gap, so if he does come back and he’s turned into Tiger Woods again, I’ve got to kind of watch my behind.
“That’s the main goal and main reason why I’m trying to extend that lead, so that I stay on top, because at the end of the day, it’s very stressful being the No. 1 player in the world. You’re in the limelight a lot. You’ve got more things to do when you get to tournaments, more things to do off weeks. But I wouldn’t change it in any way because this is exactly where I want to be, and I want to try and stay here as long as I can while I can, because nothing beats this feeling.”
Even before he won the Players, the so-called “Fifth Major,” Day said he wanted it on his resume because someday it might help get him a bust in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Assessing his numbers, he knows he still has plenty of work to do.
“I look at that 10 PGA Tour wins, and I say to myself, that’s not enough, and it isn’t enough for me,” said Day, who missed a chance to win the Open Championship last July at St. Andrews but won the RBC Canadian Open the following week to start his surge. “It’s just 10. I want more than 10. …
“I look at Tiger and he’s at 79 … and Phil (Mickelson) is up there (42), and I’m just like, ‘OK, I want to be able to be looked back on and know that he was one of the greats in the game.’
“If I have the opportunity to do that, I’m going to try my best. And I have the opportunity to do that right now, try and work as hard as I can to really leave my footprint in this game that has given me so much. …
“I’m very motivated to win as much as I can right now. … I want to win every single tournament that I’m playing in.”
After the Memorial, Day will turn his attention to the U.S. Open, and he plans a recon trip to Oakmont next week.
When he arrives for the second major of the season, he will be more than the hometown favorite that he is this week.
Day will be the favorite. Period.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre