Not long after Jason Day put the finishing touches on his pre-Masters, Tiger Woods-like match play victory on Sunday in Austin, Lydia Ko continued her assault on the sidelined superstar’s records by winning her 11th LPGA Tour event ahead of the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season.
Convincing wins by both world No. 1s, with each earning associations with a certain 14-time major champion.
Day, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking on the men’s side when Jordan Spieth lost in Saturday's fourth round, used advice he received from Woods a couple of weeks ago ("Patience and aggression") to steamroll his way into the winner’s circle at WGC-Dell Match Play Championship. He did so a week ago by one-upping his mentor, who, despite his eight wins at Bay Hill, never went wire-to-wire as Day did at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Of Tiger's 8 wins at Bay Hill none were wire-to-wire. Jason Day says he'll text him tonight to remind him of that. #PGATOUR— Brian Wacker (@pgatour_brianw) March 20, 2016
Seven days later, Day issued a warning that he’s the one to beat for the green jacket despite a balky back that threatened early on to derail his undefeated run toward the match play title.
"I feel good. But once again, I can't get complacent with how I'm playing right now," he said after winning his second match play title in two years. "It would be great to win Augusta. But I've got to make sure I get in and do the little things that count towards the big picture and that's my prep in getting ready for that week. Rest and recovery next week is huge for me, because it has been a long week and a long two weeks. But get down there Thursday and try and do the same old things, and hopefully pull out a win."
The reigning PGA champion acknowledged at Bay Hill that he and Woods communicated about what it takes to remain at the top of the leaderboard tourney after tourney. Day on his own, however, knew what to do to turn what seemed to be a major back injury on Thursday into a slugfest against Rory McIlroy and a waltz over Louis Oosthuizen on Sunday.
The heavyweight showdown with McIlroy turned on missed opportunities on the greens by the world’s third-best golfer as Day rolled in putt after putt and came down to the 18th hole. That’s where Day stuck the dagger in, ending a thrilling morning round by pouring in a 12-footer for par and the W.
"He reminds me so much of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods," NBC Sports’ lead analyst Johnny Miller said of Day, whose touch on the greens is as masterful as his long game. "He can hit the most amazingly great shots, and can hit it all over the lot like both of them did, but not pay the price when he hits it all over the lot because his short game is so amazing."
The championship bout turned into a rout, with Oosthuizen conceding a three-foot birdie putt and the 5-and-4 win — and let the Tiger comparisons begin.
Day’s 5 and 4 victory in the Championship Match is the largest margin since Tiger Woods defeated Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in 2008.— Ron Mintz (@PGATOURNEWS) March 28, 2016
His win at Austin Country Club was also Day’s sixth victory in his last 13 starts, which, again, elevated the 28-year-old Aussie into rarified air.
With Day not playing in this week’s final Masters tuneup in Houston, perhaps he will be warming up his texting thumb for a few tips on how to do what his mentor did in 2001.
For Ko, who earlier this month called Woods her "role model," her attack on Tiger’s marks is withering. The youngest player of either gender to ascend to the top of the world rankings when she did so last year at 17 (almost four years sooner than Woods), notched her 11th career win on the LPGA Tour on Sunday.
By earning her 11th win so quickly, Ko naturally got the Tiger treatment. Indeed, she may have needed four more starts than Tiger to nail down that 11th (it was her 71st to Tiger’s 67th on the PGA Tour), but the 18-year-old got Tiger by some five years (he was 23).
With birdies on her final three holes of the Kia Classic, Ko not only held off a hard-charging Inbee Park but overcame an unusual double-strike penalty to cadge a four-shot win. Starting the day with a four-shot edge, Ko appeared to be in cruise control before calling a penalty on herself when her ball struck her club twice when she was putting from off the 10th green.
"I don't think I've ever double-hit it, especially with a putter before," Ko said after carding her fourth sub-70 round (68-67-67-67) to get to 19-under for the week.
"Fortunately, I was able to make the second putt and I think that was kind of the turning point. If I didn't make that, I think that I might have switched things around a little bit, and then I made a good par on 11," she added. "That’s hard to prepare for but fortunately I was able to go through that without much drama."
The real drama begins on Thursday, when the ANA Inspiration (the Dinah Shore to those of a certain vintage) kicks off the majors season with Ko as the favorite to win the second of her young career. Day will follow a week later, tied with McIlroy and Spieth as the oddsmakers’ choice to exit Magnolia Lane with the Masters trophy.