Tiger Woods has had a bit of success in his 20-year career on the PGA Tour, but last week his protégé, Jason Day, did something even the eight-time winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational never accomplished — going wire-to-wire for the victory at Bay Hill.
"I never knew that," Day, with a laugh, told reporters on Sunday after eking out a hard-won, one-shot win over Kevin Chappell. "I will text him tonight."
Woods loves nothing more than trash talking with the guys out on the course, so we’re guessing he’ll take the ribbing and give back as good as he gets. Unfortunately for the sidelined 14-time major champion, he won’t be able to back up his needling with a good old-fashioned Woods whooping inside the ropes.
The way Day put Woods’ advice into effect last week, though, it might be difficult for Tiger in his prime to derail his supremely confident acolyte.
Indeed, Woods was nowhere near Bay Hill last week, but he was for sure inside Day’s head — and guidance from the legendary superstar, in the form of text messages, was just the shot of poise and determination the world No. 2 needed to capture his first victory at Arnie’s Place and head to Augusta as one of the clear favorites to win the Masters.
When his playing days are over, Day may want to publish his own tell-all, Texts From Tiger, about how tips from his boyhood hero inspired him to play like the winner of 79 tour events.
"It gives me so much confidence that a person like that would believe in me," said Day, whose 17-under for the week was enough to move him past an inconsistent Rory McIlroy into second place in the world rankings. "I was idolizing him ever since I was a kid and watching him in ‘97 win the Masters for the first time and all of a sudden I’m playing the tour and I’m pretty close with him now."
A hallmark of Woods’ greatness was how he closed out opponent after opponent even without his best stuff. Day would have preferred not to struggle early in his round, when he started with three bogeys in his opening six holes. But with Tiger’s words ringing in his ears, Day kept plugging away.
"Get to 13-under par and then finish at 17-under par, I mean it was a grinding sort of a weekend," Day said after carding a final-round 2-under 70. "My iron play was very, very poor over the weekend but one thing that helped a lot was my short game. I holed a lot of shots out this week, more so than I've ever done in my career, and it's all that hard work that I've been putting in from the start of the season on my short game because I know that that's one strength that I hold. If I have a good short game it gives me a boost of confidence ... that I can go out there even when I don't have my best stuff with my full game and my swing can go out there and play well."
While Tiger’s texts spurred Day on, it was another member of golf’s royalty he hoped to impress Sunday as well.
"I was able to walk up there and have a special moment with the King," Day said about receiving the winner’s handshake from the tourney host. "That's something I always wanted to do."
As for the knowledge that Woods dropped on Day all week, the reigning PGA champ noted that the words were nothing out of the unusual; it was more who was typing them.
"Traded texts last night and this morning. It's the same thing. For some reason when he sends the same stuff to me, ‘Just be yourself’ and, 'just be sure,' I can finally concentrate," Day said. "'Just be yourself and stay in your world,’ and for some reason it just means so much more, you know, that you can do this and start your own legacy here."
After a five-win 2015, Day had a so-so beginning to this year, posting a T10 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a missed cut at Torrey Pines in four PGA Tour starts. For a week anyway, and -- with the momentum from a clutch birdie on 17 and knee-knocking par on 18 -- he hopes for at least three more, persistence paid off for the 28-year-old Aussie with eight tour Ws.
"It was very important," he said about the significance of prevailing on Sunday. "I've been working really, really hard. I mean I had not stopped. I've had to sacrifice a little bit of time spending with the family just so I could work a little bit harder and, you know, really focus on my golf game and, you know, it's finally paid off."
Day conceded his triumph may not have been a thing of beauty but as his sensei is wont to say, it is what it is.
"You know, regardless if you win wire-to-wire or you win pretty or you win ugly, a win is a win. It's a great feeling and nothing beats winning," he said. " Like I said, [Tiger’s] been a big influence in my life ever since I was a kid and to have his advice to be able to go see him and practice with him and pick his brain about numerous things that I want to try and improve my game has been a big credit to him."
And a huge boost to Day, who, thanks to his win and McIlroy’s T27 finish, moved up into a tie for second place with the four-time major titleholder as oddsmakers’ pick to win that green jacket.
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