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Jason Day gets a pre-Masters boost and wins Arnold Palmer Invitational

With Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth looking uneven in recent weeks, Jason Day puts a win on the board just two weeks before Augusta.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The dominant narrative coming into this PGA Tour season was the hyped-up rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth that was sure to take off in 2016. Spieth had just completed a legendary two-major, Player of the Year campaign and Rory was going to return with a vengeance from what he termed a "lost" 2015 season. The player overlooked in that scenario was Jason Day, who admitted this week he's the least cool member of this new "Big Three."

But with just two weeks to go until the season's first and most important major, it's Day who may be in the best shape to take the Masters and leave that Rory-Jordan narrative behind. Day's form at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational was far from the outrageous game at the end of last year, when no one in the world could touch him and he won three times in four starts, including that first career major. But he still went wire-to-wire at Bay Hill to pick up his first win of the year and nice little boost in this final pre-Masters stretch.

Day started the week 66-65 to open up a five-shot lead at the midpoint in Orlando and it looked like it would be a runaway. The weekend rounds were much more of a grind, something he cited right after walking off the 18th on Sunday. Figuring out how to win when he's "not on," as he put it, is the next step in Day becoming one of the greats. When he's got it all working, tee-to-green, he's playing a different game. That showed on Tuesday when he torched Bay Hill, bombing it with his driver and then stuffing it close with his irons. There are only a couple players -- Rory, maybe Dustin and Bubba -- who can hang with Day when he's going like that and even then, those other stars need their absolute best too.

The last two rounds, however, he needed to slug it out just to escape with the title on the 18th hole. He'd sputter and come back to the pack, then use that awesome talent to put a couple birdies back up on the board and get back in the lead. He started Sunday with a two-shot lead but made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the front nine to bring all the chasers back into it early. The primary challengers at the end were Kevin Chappell and Troy Merritt. Chappell held a one-shot lead on the 18th tee, but a drive into the right rough led to a closing bogey. Day pounced, making birdie at the 17th to get ahead by a shot ...

... and then making an absurd sand shot at the finishing hole for an up-and-down save.

The win is Day's eighth PGA Tour victory and his sixth in a little more than a year. They're coming at the marquee events and venues too -- Torrey Pines, the PGA Championship, two Playoffs tourneys, and now Bay Hill.

Day spent the first quarter of the year playing and traveling far less than his other colleagues of the "Big Three." It was a quiet start to the year after that rampaging end to 2015. But he may have played his scheduling just right and could now be in better form than either Spieth or McIlroy with the Masters bearing down. He's got a second and third-place finish in a young five-year career at Augusta, and his talent and high-ball bombing ways were going to make him a natural favorite again there this year. The "quiet" start to the year is long gone and this week's win at Bay Hill, with Arnie watching over that 18th green, reminded us why he'll be so tough to beat.

The Tour now swings out to Texas for the WGC Match Play event and the Shell Houston Open. Here are your final results from the fourth and final leg of the Florida swing:

Place Player Score Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Total
1 Jason Day -17 66 65 70 70 271
2 Kevin Chappell -16 68 68 67 69 272
T3 Henrik Stenson -14 67 66 70 71 274
T3 Troy Merritt -14 67 69 67 71 274
5 Zach Johnson -12 70 70 68 68 276
T6 Kiradech Aphibarnrat -11 70 69 73 65 277
T6 Hideki Matsuyama -11 70 69 71 67 277
T6 Jamie Lovemark -11 68 68 71 70 277
T9 Paul Casey -10 68 69 72 69 278
T9 Francesco Molinari -10 68 72 69 69 278
T9 Justin Rose -10 68 66 71 73 278
T12 Ben Martin -9 71 70 71 67 279
T12 Adam Scott -9 67 73 70 69 279
T12 Chris Kirk -9 68 71 69 71 279
T12 Smylie Kaufman -9 69 71 68 71 279
T12 Derek Fathauer -9 70 66 69 74 279
T17 Marc Leishman -8 67 70 74 69 280
T17 Brian Harman -8 69 71 70 70 280
T17 Emiliano Grillo -8 68 71 68 73 280
T20 Billy Horschel -7 72 67 74 68 281
T20 Chad Campbell -7 74 68 71 68 281
T20 Jason Kokrak -7 70 68 72 71 281
T20 Patrick Rodgers -7 70 70 70 71 281
T20 Chris Wood -7 69 69 71 72 281
T20 Rob Oppenheim -7 70 68 71 72 281
T20 David Hearn -7 71 67 71 72 281
T27 Rory McIlroy -6 75 67 75 65 282
T27 Bryce Molder -6 72 71 72 67 282
T27 Lucas Glover -6 68 74 71 69 282
T27 Matthew Fitzpatrick -6 70 71 72 69 282
T27 Scott Brown -6 70 74 68 70 282
T27 Cameron Tringale -6 68 71 72 71 282
T27 Jonas Blixt -6 72 68 71 71 282
T27 Andy Sullivan -6 70 70 70 72 282
T27 Bryson DeChambeau -6 72 72 72 66 282
T36 Brandt Snedeker -5 70 72 75 66 283
T36 Hudson Swafford -5 72 72 69 70 283
T36 Adam Hadwin -5 69 72 73 69 283
T36 Keegan Bradley -5 69 70 73 71 283
T36 Sean O'Hair -5 70 72 70 71 283
T36 Byeong-Hun An -5 74 70 67 72 283
T36 K.J. Choi -5 68 70 70 75 283
T43 Tony Finau -4 70 74 73 67 284
T43 Martin Laird -4 69 74 70 71 284
T43 Kyle Reifers -4 71 70 71 72 284
T46 Jhonattan Vegas -3 71 72 74 68 285
T46 Ian Poulter -3 72 70 72 71 285
T46 Roberto Castro -3 75 68 71 71 285
T46 Greg Owen -3 71 71 72 71 285
T46 Freddie Jacobson -3 69 73 71 72 285
T46 Retief Goosen -3 70 71 72 72 285
T46 Brendan Steele -3 67 70 74 74 285
T46 Charles Howell III -3 72 71 68 74 285
T46 Maverick McNealy -3 69 71 74 71 285
T55 Camilo Villegas -2 73 71 77 65 286
T55 Zac Blair -2 71 68 77 70 286
T57 Hunter Mahan -1 70 73 72 72 287
T57 Colt Knost -1 71 73 70 73 287
T57 Billy Hurley III -1 69 70 73 75 287
T60 Ryan Palmer E 70 74 72 72 288
T60 Rory Sabbatini E 70 74 72 72 288
T60 Chez Reavie E 71 71 73 73 288
T63 Si Woo Kim 1 70 74 75 70 289
T63 Jim Herman 1 70 74 72 73 289
T63 J.J. Henry 1 76 67 72 74 289
T63 Jon Curran 1 71 70 74 74 289
T63 David Lingmerth 1 70 72 70 77 289
T68 Davis Love III 2 72 71 78 69 290
T68 Angel Cabrera 2 71 73 75 71 290
T68 Spencer Levin 2 73 71 75 71 290
T68 John Huh 2 73 70 76 71 290
T68 Webb Simpson 2 70 70 76 74 290
73 William McGirt 3 69 73 74 75 291
T74 Ryan Moore 6 71 69 81 73 294
T74 Ernie Els 6 70 74 73 77 294
76 Thomas Pieters 7 73 70 74 78 295