Leaderboard: Being The Best, Or One Of The Best

By Dan Reardon

Granted, it primarily comes down to one tee shot, a hooked three wood off the 16th tee at Firestone on Sunday, but should the rush to immortalize Jason Day downshift to a lower gear? With 10 wins in 10 years, including three so far this year, Day is clearly one of the most gifted players in the game today.

But his putting during the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational was described as reminiscent of Tiger Woods, an amber warning light popped on for me. The Tiger comparison wasn’t enough. It was refined to Tiger from 2000-01, meaning the all-time best Tiger; four-straight-majors Tiger; never-been-done-before-or-since Tiger.

There is a more accurate Day comparison sitting out there that the run-with-headline golf community might want to consider. Not early Tiger, but early Day.

Before the 28-year-old Australian lit the fuse at Chambers Bay and St. Andrews a year ago and then set off his own early fireworks starting at Bridgestone and the PGA, Jason Day had a profile of being talented but brittle, both physically and mentally. He could run like the hare until it mattered and then tortoised his way to the finish line.

In 2010 at Whistling Straits, he contended until the ninth on Sunday when he faded with three bogeys and double for a 74. In 2011 he was part of the debris field at Augusta when Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes, although Day did birdie 17 and 18 to finish T2. Again at the Masters in 2013, he managed a third to Adam Scott, but this time bogeyed 16 and 17 to miss a playoff by two.

He’s had five top 10s, including runner-up finishes in 2011 and ’13 in the U.S. Open. At Congressional in ’11, nobody mattered as Rory McIlroy lapped the field. But at Merion in ’13, Day bogeyed three of the last eight holes to watch Justin Rose hoist the trophy.

In his major career, he has 11 top 10s, including a win, but when you are being put on the pedestal with his sometime-mentor Woods, silver and bronze mean very little. Ask Lee Westwood about his major career or Phil Mickelson and the U.S. Open.

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In 2016 Day has already had a year that would outpace the career of most on the PGA Tour. He has three wins so far — one a WGC event, the Match Play Championship and the Players. The win at Bay Hill was a brilliant 18th hole save from a less than impressive tee shot that produced the drama.

In his two subsequent majors, he has reverted to form. He flashed but faded at Augusta with a closing 73, T10. At Oakmont he again impressed by recovering from a poor opening round to inch into the picture on Sunday, but a double bogey at 17 and a bogey at 18 left him T8 with plenty of room in his major trophy case.

Although Day stands second in this year’s Tour scoring average, closer scrutiny shows him floating higher through each of the four rounds, and his late scoring average ranks 59th on Tour. Other numbers are also revealing in both the short and longterm. For the season, Day has never hit more than eight consecutive fairways, placing 277th on Tour. At Bridgestone that number was irrelevant on the weekend when he totaled eight (three on Saturday and five on Sunday).

The triple on 16 at Firestone was the product of the hooked tee shot, but the other seven shots were not an endorsement of his course management under pressure. And before the snowman, there was the three-putt at 15, featuring a pushed three-footer. How many times did Woods do that in 2000-01?

It would be foolish to not list Day as a co-favorite at Troon for the Open Championship, with the new immortal de jour, Dustin Johnson. His physical skill set, when in place, sets Day apart, but before you can lay claim to being the best, you first have to stop performing like one of the best.

Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.

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