JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Perhaps others were the actual betting favorites, guys like Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, but it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that Jason Day gathered considerable attention headed into the 93rd PGA Championship.
After all, he had played brilliantly to finish in a share of second at the Masters, he was solo second at the U.S. Open, and there had been eight top 10 finishes in 16 tournaments.
Explosive and aggressive, he was touted by his colleagues as a player to watch, but the last view of him at Atlanta Athletic Club was heading to the exits. Coming home on the front nine, Day shot 39, signed for a 74 and at 5-over 145 missed the cut by one.
Perhaps stunned by this rare stumble in a lengthy stretch of great play, Day was intent on leaving. Did he want to talk to Australian TV? “Probably not today, mate,” he said.
A short time, later, however, he had cooled a bit. He didn’t deny that the sudden turn of events shocked him. He pointed to holes 15-18. “I felt good, but the last four holes got me,” Day said. “I played them 6 over, that’s what hurt me the most.”
Though the major chances ended with disappointment, Day knows there’s much to play for. He came into the week 14th in the FedEx Cup standings, so that massive prize is within grasp.
“I’ve got four tournaments left for the PGA Tour season,” Day said. “I just need to have a good week off next week, try to work on a few things and get to the playoffs. You can’t do anything about playing bad, its unfortunate, but that just happens.”
THEY’VE BEEN CUT: Day was hardly the only notable to come up short. So, too, did Dustin Johnson, who a year ago left the PGA Championship short of a playoff chance because of a mishap in a bunker. This time around, it was what he did on the greens – meaning, he took too many strokes.
How many is too many? Try 33 Thursday and 31 more in Round 2.
“Believe it or not, (my game) is actually pretty good,” Johnson said. “I putted horrific. It was bad, the worst ever. Other than that, the game’s there.”
Johnson did not have a problem with the greens. In fact, he said they were perfect. He also said he wasn’t going to work with Dave Stockton, though he did so for just a short time in Dallas earlier this year. Instead, he’ll figure it out himself.
Other notables to miss the cut: Defending champ Martin Kaymer, Anthony Kim, Justin Rose, Angel Cabrera, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, Alvaro Quiros, Brandt Snedeker, and Stewart Cink, who backed up a five-birdie 68 with a birdieless 78.
PERFECT IN THE MAJORS: When all the numbers had been crunched and the cut had fallen at 4-over 144, 75 players had made it into the weekend.
Among those who advanced were 11 who can stake claim to a distinguished accomplishment, they’ve made the cut in all four majors in 2011. Sergio Garcia, Bill Haas, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Edoardo Molinari, Ryan Palmer, Charl Schwartzel, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Gary Woodland, and Y.E. Yang claim the honors.
For Mickelson and Schwartzel, the streak is a tour-best nine in the majors.
PERFECT IN THE WRONG WAY: On the flip side, Jonathan Byrd and Hiroyuki Fujita share a dubious distinction – they missed the cut in all four majors this season.
Hunter Mahan birdied his 36th hole, the par 4 ninth, to make it on the number, 4 over, and make the cut in his first major of the season. Francesco Molinari, Ben Crane, and Kevin Na also made the cut after having missed it at the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open.
BIRDIES AND BOGEYS: Jerry Pate, 57, made his only birdie at his final hole, the par 4 ninth, as he missed the cut with rounds of 77-79 . . . . . Larry Nelson, 63, failed to make a birdie in two days, shooting 78-75 to miss the cut . . . . . British Open champ Darren Clarke shot 76 with a second straight birdieless round and declared that he was on vacation . . . . . How about lefthander Richard Green? He strung together 18 consecutive pars, though coming on the heels of a 79, the Aussie still missed the cut . . . . . Tommy Gainey (81-70, missed cut) double-bogeyed the par-5 12th, but that was an improvement over Thursday when he made a 9 on that hole . . . . . Ryo Ishikawa had no birdies and six double bogeys in a 85 Thursday. In Round 2 he had no doubles and three birdies to shoot 72 . . . . . Brandt Jobe went 32 holes without a bogey before he stumbled at Nos. 15 and 18 . . . . . Shaun Micheel was bogey-free Thursday, but he started Round 2 bogey-bogey and by his first nine holes had made six of them. Shooting 78, he went from third to T-62, making the cut on the number.
LEAVING EVEN EARLIER: Having been struggling with back woes, Retief Goosen opened with a 75, then withdrew before the start of Round 2. Rocco Mediate (79) and J.B. Holmes (80) also withdrew after rough first rounds.
REASON TO CELEBRATE: Having missed four cuts in a row and five in six starts, Jason Dufner found a way to change the mood. He left the Philadelphia area and took his fiance, Amanda Boyd, to New York.
On Fourth of July, they were officially engaged.
“Fireworks and everything,” she said with a laugh. “I never thought this day would come.”
You know it has to be true love, because Jason is an Auburn guy through and through, while Amanda went to the University of Alabama.
FROM GOOD TO BAD: His 2010 heroics – U.S. Open win, Ryder Cup hero, conquest of Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge – is a distant memory, what with the way the season has gone for Graeme McDowell.
“At some point you hit a wall and I’ve hit a wall hard this year,” McDowell said after shooting 78 to miss the cut at 12-over 152.
The man from Northern Ireland has missed the cut in five of his last nine starts, hasn’t been top 10 since the Honda Classic in March, and failed to qualify for weekend play in three of the four majors this year.
“The game is just not there,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to go back to the drawing board a little bit and see what’s going on.”
CRAZY GAME: On the one hand, Charl Schwartzel feels he should be right in the hunt, given the way he’s hit it. On the other, “I’ve hit three balls in the water and been out-of-bounds . . . “ so he feels a bit fortunate to be at 2 over and easily within the cut.
“This golf course is really penalizing,” the Masters champion said.
Schwartzel was particularly stunned at the par 3 17th. He watched Rory McIlroy come up a bit short and into the water, so it wasn’t like the South African didn’t know what was in front of him. But even while hitting what he thought was a solid 6 iron, “I came up way short.”
He shook his head, which is what a lot of guys are doing this week. Though it’s a demanding golf course, Schwartzel doesn’t think you can play cautiously.
“You’re not going to go low by bailing out,” he said. “But you need a little bit of luck on your side.”
SO GOOD, IT’S WORTH SECOND THOUGHT: Here is another way to measure just how scintillating was Steve Stricker’s 7-under 63 in Thursday’s first round – it was 10.109 strokes better than the field’s 73.11 average. That’s the PGA Championship’s widest margin between the low round of the day and the scoring average of the entire field in the last 21 years. Since 1990, the previous best was 9.80 lower than the day’s scoring average, by Gil Morgan (third round, 1990) and Tiger Woods (second round, 2007).
A LOT TO PLAY FOR: Not that Robert Allenby was doing any scoreboard watching, but, well, he was. But it’s for a good cause – his desire to make it onto the Presidents Cup team.
Allenby came into the week ranked 13th in the International Team standings, but thanks to rounds of 72-70, he made the cut and should move up a bit. That’s because players right ahead of him, Geoff Ogilvy (12th) and Ryo Ishikawa (11th) both missed the cut.
Then again, Allenby noted that demands of Atlanta Athletic Club and conceded he isn’t focused on the standings.
“You can’t play and think about a lot of that stuff,” Allenby said.