Jason Day is getting better at forgetting. He’s letting go of things that bother him, trying to keep distractions from infecting his golf swing. Most of the time, it works for the 29-year-old Australian who has been the No. 1 golfer in the world since last March.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
For a stretch last weekend at Pebble Beach, he looked more like a guy who’d rather go look for seals in Carmel Bay than swing a club on one of the world’s most famous golf courses.
Day had completed the suspended second round very early Saturday, and his 64 gave him a share of the lead. That disappeared quickly.
He shot a 41 for his first nine holes of Round 3 to basically fall out of contention.
But what happened next illustrated how Day, already a force in professional golf, is still evolving. On his second nine, he shot 34 and the next day bounced back to shoot a five-under-par 67 to finish in a tie for fifth.
“I felt like a 75 was the best score I could have shot, which sounds terrible, doesn’t it?” he said Tuesday as he prepared to play in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
“But I actually came on strong and had four birdies in the last six holes.”
With the effect of three back surgeries on Tiger Woods’ game not far from Day’s mind, he has tried to shorten his swing to lessen the strain on his lower back. He’s still adjusting to it, and occasionally gets stuck thinking too much rather than letting the swing flow. Day’s back issues forced him to withdraw from the Tour Championship last September.
“I got a little bit too technical with my swing,” he said of the 41. “When you’re free flowing and in the zone, you don’t think of anything other than trying to get the ball from point A to point B.”
Either Dustin Johnson or Hideki Matsuyama could overtake Day as No. 1 with a victory this weekend, depending on Day’s performance. He wants to hold the spot for a full calendar year, but he’ll recover if he doesn’t.
“Winning takes care of everything,” he said. “If someone takes it off me, I’m OK with it. I’m not going to be angry or sad about it….
“I feel like I’ve really learned a lot about myself over the past year, being able to let things go. … “I’ve got to the point where things are different for me. When I used to play bad golf, I’d lock myself in the back of the bus and want to go mad. It’s not like that anymore; I feel really good about how things are in my life right now.”
Day has always been known as a deliberate player, slow by some standards. But he insists his pace when he gets to his ball is predicated on how to execute the shot.
“You know, I would think that everyone in this room would take just a little bit longer if they had a million dollars on their mind,” he said.
Any reaction from other players on his pace of play?
Riviera hasn’t been kind to Day. He’s played three times, missed the cut twice and finished tied for 62nd in his most recent effort, 2012.
“Looking at that, I probably shouldn’t tee it up,” he said jokingly. “With that said, I feel like I’m a better player now than I was. … I’ve just got to keep my head down and keep playing and keep fighting on forward.”
Coming home … sort of
Thomas Pieters, the animated Belgian who won four points for the Europeans in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, is playing at Riviera on a sponsor’s exemption. Pieters, who mockingly raised an index finger to his mouth to quiet fans during the Americans’ lopsided victory, won the 2012 NCAA individual championship at Riviera while playing for Illinois.
What’s his fondest memory of that week?
“Just staying in Santa Monica,” he said. “We used to play in the Midwest and it’s not very pretty down there.”
Storms on the horizon
The weather forecast is foreboding for Friday and Saturday morning. Heavy rain, with 100% chance of precipitation according to the Weather Channel, could threaten play Friday. In 2006, Adam Scott was declared the winner after only two rounds had been played because of rain.
Matt Morton, Riviera superintendent, said the design for drainage of the course helps keeps water off the playing areas and he has doubled the normal grounds crew from 40 to 80 for the event. He expects the course to hold up well.
“We’ll have quite a few people to help move water off the golf course, if need be,” he said.