It might have looked like a calm “walkabout” but Jason Day said it was anything but before the final round of the 2016 Players.
“I told Ellie earlier this morning, this is probably the most nervous I’ve been before a tournament round,” he recounted after finishing at -15 and recording his seventh victory in his last 17 starts, adding THE PLAYERS in 2016 to his resume.
Entering the final round with a four shot lead, Day played the front nine in two over par, including a bogey from 25 feet on the par 5 ninth. He said making the putt there for bogey was the most important shot of the week and kept him focused on playing well.
“I just kept on saying to myself, just settle yourself down. Don’t do anything too drastic and try and chase pins or do anything stupid out there because, other than 9, for the most part — I didn’t play a great front nine, but once I got to 10, I kind of said to myself, you’re still in the game, you’ve still got the lead.”
Day birdied 10 and followed that with another at 12 and one at 16. He said he was still nervous on 17 hitting his 52 degree wedge “But I was close to hitting it in the bloody water there.”
He said he savored the walk down 18 as much as he could, knowing victory was at hand. But despite the winning percentage and the success he’s had, he’s hungry for more.
“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,” he explained. “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.”
As the runner-up, Kevin Chappell didn’t get the victory he wanted but gained a lot of confidence. Chappell had nines of 29, 31 and 32 and was at 2 over through 26 holes of the tournament. So even though he had a lot of solid stretches, he knows he still needs a bit of work.
“I’ve got a lot of horsepower,” he said. “This horse can run. Got to get rid of some of the bogeys. I really didn’t scramble that well this week, and I feel like that’s been something I’ve leaned on this whole year. Just look at it as an anomaly, and got to get back to work and get at it again at Colonial.”
Finishing with a flourish, a birdie on 18, Justin Thomas’ 65 in the final round of this year’s Players shot him straight up the leaderboard.
“I love this course,” he said more than two hours before Jason Dan walked up 18. “I’m glad to have shot a good score on a championship venue like this.”
When asked if he thinks about what shots he could have saved Thursday or Friday he laughed and said, “Man, that’s golf. I’m thinking about the once I gave away today!”
Thomas admitted he didn’t think he had a chance to win the golf tournament when he came to the course this morning but would stick around to see what Day would do. “Have to,” he said with a smile.
A closing 68 left Adam Scott at -7 and if not for an eight on 18 on Friday, he admitted he was playing well enough to win.
“It could have been a different story for me over the weekend had I not done that,” the 2004 champion explained. “But that’s one of 72 holes I have to play. I hung in there and had a good finish down the stretch. I go away from the week feeling like I’m playing some good golf.”
Noting that he and Jason have been top 15 players in the world for the past five years, Scott said the state of the game in Australia is good. Standing atop the FedEx rankings, Scott says Day is inspiring kids Down Under to take the game up.
“Jason is going to be inspiring kids like he was inspired by Tiger. That’s really important for the overall makeup of the game down there. It’s nice to see.”
After losing his chance to win the tournament with a nine on 17 yesterday including three balls in the water, local resident Russell Knox called it a “career defining moment” when he came to 17 today.
“I’ve never been so nervous over a shot in my whole life,” the former JU player said. “If I couldn’t get off the tee there today, I was in big trouble. So I was very happy that I hit the green. Even though I three-putted, I beat my score by five yesterday, so pretty solid.” Knox posted a 68 in the final round to finish at five under. Ironically, his only bogey of the day was at 17.
An anticipated run by Rory McIlroy never materialized as he couldn’t ever build on any momentum. At 8 under par after 11 holes the world #3 was looking to make something happen but didn’t convert on any of his chances. He says it’s similar to how he’s played over the last year.
“I’m just not — it’s just not — everything is just not clicking,” he explained. “Hopefully as the summer approaches, everything can start to click and I can go on a run, because I really don’t feel like it’s too far away.