With injury under control, Day set for Open challenge
PINEHURST, N.C. – He is here in the embrace of what he calls the truest test of golf, a championship that challenges a competitor to “show what you’ve got.”
OK, then, what have you got, Jason Day?
Slight pause, then words are delivered not so much with trepidation but caution. “I’m 100 percent healthy. I want to get that out there,” Day said, though later he conceded that there’s room for a disclaimer.
“Who knows what’s going to happen?”
PHOTOS: 2014 U.S. Open (Tuesday)
Here are some images from Tuesday's practice round for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C.
The young Aussie should be front and center when talk swirls around contenders in this week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Heck, given his world ranking (seventh) and his performance record in this major (second in 2011 and tied for second a year ago), and given his 2013-14 resume (he won the World Cup in December and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February), one could make the case for Day being the favorite.
But, alas, very little talk centers around Day, which is not an indictment of his game as much as it is a statement about a nagging injury to his left thumb that has relegated the Aussie to part-time status.
“It’s amazing how much we underestimate our hands,” Day said.
No injury is welcomed, but for Day, this one came at a particularly bad time. Riding the momentum of that World Cup triumph in his native Australia, Day had kicked off his PGA Tour season with a share of second at the Farmers Insurance Open, then a victory at the Match Play.
He was revved for bigger and better things, seemingly poised for the monster year he has been trending toward. But while he could put his arms around the prospects of moving to No. 1 in the world ranking, Day couldn’t put his left hand on the golf club without stinging pain. He bypassed the next WGC, the Cadillac Championship, went to the sidelines for a total of six weeks, then re-appeared at the Masters.
He finished joint 20th, “but I forced it there,” Day said. He figures it set him back another two weeks and it would be another six weeks before he played again when he tied for 37th at the Memorial.
Another week off and here he is, teeing it up for just the sixth time this PGA Tour season. Although today’s marquee names love their time off, this wasn’t the way Day envisioned his year.
“If you said it was frustrating, it would be an understatement,” he said.
Just a few months ago, Day had soared to No. 4 in the world, and the Masters should have provided him a legitimate opportunity to go to No. 1. Instead, Day left Augusta No. 5 and since has fallen to No. 7. It’s countryman Adam Scott who holds down the No. 1 position.
“It definitely has given me motivation,” Day said of Scott’s rise to the penthouse. “I definitely want to try and achieve that (being No. 1). I really want to achieve that before I’m 30.”
Since his 30th birthday will be Nov. 12, 2017, Day clearly has time on his side, though it’s almost as if he also offered himself a challenge complete with a timetable. That is not something he has done with the thumb injury. Other than forcing his appearance in the Masters, the 26-year-old has done the prudent thing and not rushed back, much as he said he has wanted to play. And this week, he is sticking to his pre-determined prep plan: 18 holes last Friday, nine holes Saturday, nine holes Sunday, nine holes Monday and nine holes Tuesday.
“That’s three rounds under my belt,” he said. “I’m trying to be on top of (the left-thumb issue). I’m icing my thumb and taking anti-inflammatories every day, just to make sure that it doesn’t pop up again.”
While he’s confident that it’s under control, he’s making no promises.
“If it’s going to pop up, it’s going to pop up.”