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Len Ziehm On Golf

No U.S. sweep of 2015 majors, but Day deserved this PGA

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – No longer is Jason Day the best golfer without a major championship. The 27-year old Australian had been in the conversation for that dubious honor for several years, but he took himself out of it on Sunday by winning the 97th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Day had this one coming. He endured runner-up finishes in three previous majors – at the Masters and U.S. Open in 2011 and the U.S. Open again in 2013. He also held or shared the 54-hole lead in the last three majors before getting the job done on the rugged, bunker-filled Pete Dye-designed course on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan.

He did it in style, too. Day started Sunday’s round with a two-stroke lead and no player got any closer. He had a four-stroke cushion midway through the back nine and won by three over playing partner Jordan Spieth, who was thwarted in his bid for his third major title of 2015 but did succeed in supplanting Rory McIlroy at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Spieth also reached 54 under par for his play in the four majors, which bettered a record held by Tiger Woods, but that was clearly overshadowed by Day’s dominance. His 67 on Sunday gave him a 20-under-par 268 total for the 72 holes – a record low for a major championship — along with the $1.5 million first prize from the tourney’s $10 million purse.

“He (Day) was sitting there swinging as hard as he could off the tee, and every single drive was right down the middle of the fairway,’’ said Spieth. “Typically in a major you’re looking for somebody in Jason’s position to miss a couple of shots and just feel the nerves of his own. He went about it like a seasoned veteran. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I was amazed that he kept pulling driver and kept hitting it in the tight zones. I probably would have hit 3–wood in that scenario just to keep it in play. He proved me wrong.’’

Day, who turned pro in 2006, played the Nationwide Tour in 2007 and earned his PGA Tour for the 2008 season. He’s endured a traumatic 2015 season, winning his first World Golf Championship event, contending at both the U.S. Open despite collapsing in the second round while battling a case of vertigo and winning the Canadian Open after making a strong run in the British.

Sunday’s win clearly represents a career breakthrough for Day, who has lived in Westerville, Ohio, since his marriage to wife Ellie. They are expected their second child in October.

“It was a fantastic day for me, personally, and something I’ll never forget,’’ said Day.

The key point in Sunday’s round came midway through it. Day, who had made a 50-foot birdie putt to open a three-shot lead at No. 7, gave his first – and only, as it turned out – sign of cracking when he chunked a chip shot to the No. 9 green. He recovered to make par with a nine-foot putt, however, and neither Spieth nor South African Branden Grace – his top challengers at the time — could take advantage of that minor lapse.

Spieth made bogey on the hole and Grace, playing one group in front, took a double bogey at No. 10. After that it was Day protecting his lead, mainly from Spieth. who shot 68 in the final round. Grace, who posted a 69, was two strokes behind Spieth in third place.

“There were plenty of times when I got out of it, more so just thinking about the future – especially on the back side,’’ said Day. “I had to pull myself back in and say `It’s not over. You’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting.’ And once I did that I started hitting the quality shots that I needed.’’

While the year’s four major championships are over, the PGA Tour still has its lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs on the schedule. The four-tournament series includes the BMW Championship next month at Conway Farms in Lake Forest.