Day cools off, but still takes suspense out of BMW Championship

It would have been asking a lot for Jason Day to keep scoring the way he had been during the first two days of the BMW Championship.

After all, the 27-year old Australian led by four strokes after shooting a course record 10-under-par 61 in Round 1 at Conway Farms in Lake Forest and his margin was five after a 63 in Round 2. Day matched the all-time PGA Tour scoring record for 36 holes and a continuation of that pace would have made him the first player to break 250 for 72 holes and he was also in position to claim the record for strokes under par in a 72-hole event – presently 31-under by Ernie Els in the 2003 Mercedes Championships on a par-73 course.

Well, talk about more record-setting subsided after Saturday’s round, when Day made four bogeys and showed he’s human after all. But his lead – now up to six strokes — still looks safe entering Sunday’s final round of the third event of the FedEx Cup’s four-tournament series. He cooled off to a 69 on Saturday and is at 20-under 203 for 54 holes. His six-stroke advantage is the biggest 54-hole lead of the season on the PGA Tour.

“It feels like I shot 80 compared to the first two days,’’ said Day, “but I’m not unhappy with the score. The first two rounds were great, but this was the more important one to get through, and I’m happy to have extended the lead.’’

If he hangs on to it Sunday he’ll pass Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and claim the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings. That, said Day, “is a life-long dream.’’

Even though another night of heavy rain – four inches pelted the course in a 48-hour span — further softened the course and resulted in the lift, clean and place rule put into place for the second straight day, the birdies didn’t come as easily for Day or anyone else. A change in wind direction caused that.

“There were tough pin locations with a northerly wind,’’ said Day. “It was the most difficult round we had this week.’’

Day first got to 20 under par after a spectacular approach over a tree to two feet at No. 12. That widened his lead to eight strokes over Rickie Fowler and Scott Piercy, but Day’s next tee shot sailed out of bounds and he scrambled to make bogey – his third of the round after making only two in the first two rounds.

By then Fowler had posted his 66 – the low round of the day — but didn’t envision much hope of catching Day. Fowler is tied for fifth, seven strokes off the lead. Piercy, who will be Day’s playing partner on Sunday, and Daniel Berger, who played with Day on Saturday, are tied for second. Unlike previous rounds, players will go off in twosomes off only the No. 1 tee in the final round. First tee time is 7:15 a.m., and Day and Piercy go off last at 12:40 p.m.

Day concluded his round with a 20-foot birdie putt, which he hopes will provide good momentum going into the final 18.

“I’ll be trying to extend the lead. That’s the mindset,’’ he said.

Others weren’t thinking the same way. Just staying in the top five or even the top 30 in the FedEx standings is important. Those in the top five after the BMW Championship are assured of winning the $10 million bonus if they can win next week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. And, only the top 30 of the 70 starters at Conway Farms will qualify for that last playoff event.

“Conditions were a little tougher, and I was able to move up the board,’’ said Fowler after Saturday’s round. “You’ve got to look at Jason as an outsider. You don’t have to worry about him. There’s another tournament going on, and he’s in control of whatever he’s doing. If he happens to come back, then we may have a chance.’’

“The tournament is in Jason’s hands right now,’’ said McIlroy, who moved into solo fourth – seven back — after posting a 67. “It’s up to us that are behind him to get off to fast start, and he needs to come back to the field a little bit.’’