Day is back in the BMW spotlight at Conway Farms

Another Australian golfer may be leading the BMW Championship, but the story halfway through the third of four FedEx Cup Playoff events has been Jason Day. Day was the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer at the start of 2017. Then things went downhill, but they’re definitely on the upswing entering today’s Round 3 of the $8,750,000 championship at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.

Marc Leishman, who is in command at the 36-hole stop, will be paired with Day in Round 3. Leishman is at 16-under-par 126 and leads Day and Rickie Fowler by three strokes.

“Hopefully I can keep going, birdie-ing half the holes,’’ said Leishman, who was the 54-hole leader in the second playoff event two weeks ago in Boston but finished third behind winner Justin Thomas and runner-up Jordan Spieth.

Friday, though, was Day’s day. He made two eagles plus a hole-in-one in shooting a 65, underscoring that he’s on the road to recovery after falling from the world’s No. 1 ranking for understandable reasons.

First there was a cancer diagnosis for Day’s mother, Dening, who came from Australia to live with her son. Then Day encountered back problems.. He hasn’t won a tournament this year, and this week he made a dramatic caddie change after tying for 25th place in the previous FedEx Cup event in Boston.

Day brought in Luke Reardon, a former high school roommate and golf teammate, to replace Colin Swatton. Not only was Swatton Day’s swing coach since he was 11 years old and his caddie for the past 11 years. They were also close off the course. Each was best man at each other’s wedding.

All that turmoil was bound to take a toll, but it hasn’t affected Day in the first two days of the BMW Championship. Just competing at Conway may have been the tonic Day needed. He has a great record in two previous appearances at the Lake Forest private club, and insisted his 64-65 start isn’t that surprising.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in this position,’’ said Day, “but I’m heading in the right direction, and I’m back at a tournament golf course that I’ve played well in the past..’’

Day finished in a four-way tie for fourth place in the first BMW Championship played at Conway in 2013, five strokes behind champion Zach Johnson. In 2015 Day was brilliant at Conway, opening 61-63 to set a PGA Tour record for the first 36 holes of a tournament. He went on to win by six. That was part of a big year that saw Day ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there,’’ said Day. “Obviously that’s the goal, but 2015 was a very dominating year. But at the start of this year I was having an uphill battle with myself, trying to force things too much. There were a lot of disappointing areas that have plagued my game.’’

Nothing plagued his game on Friday. Day chipped in for eagle at No. 15 and then holed a 7-iron shot from 186 yards for his first hole-in-one in nine years. The ace wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, as the tee shot landed left off the green before taking a most fortunate bounce to the right and rolled into the cup.

His was the fifth ace in the BMW Championship and it won him a new BMW automobile. Day promptly donated it back to the Western Golf Association, which conducts the tournament to benefit its Evans Scholars Foundation. A deserving caddie also receives a four-year college scholarship from the tournament sponsor for every ace made in the tournament.

Day praised Reardon’s work as his new caddie but will retain Swatton as his swing coach and wouldn’t rule out him returning as his caddie next season.

“I’m driving a lot better this week and the iron shots are a lot cleaner,’’ he said. “Putting is coming around, too. The last two days were fantastic. Right now I’m in a good spot.’’

Leishman is in a better one. He grabbed the first-round lead with a 62 and added a 64 on Friday. That’s almost a birdie every other hole on a course that Day went 22-under in winning two years ago. Conway was set up on the short side, under 7,000 yards on Friday. The official tournament yardage for the par-71 layout, is 7,208.

“The course isn’t a pushover,’’ insisted Leishman. `It’s a good course in the respect the, if you’re hitting good shots and making putts, you can really go low.’’

More low scoring is likely over the weekend, as playing conditions have been ideal. Leishman and Day will be paired together in Round 3.

“We’ve played a lot of golf together,’’ said Leishman, “but it’ll be different not seeing Swatton on the bag. Hopefully we can both play well, make a lot of birdies and drag each other along.’’