COMMENTARY | Pick a leaderboard, any leaderboard. The first name you'd expect to see up near the top -- and understandably so -- is invariably Tiger Woods. Like him, loathe him, don't care either way, there's no way around it. He's the world's No. 1 golfer, perhaps the best of all time, but odds are, there's a name you're more likely to see than Woods or Mickelson or Furyk and all the other household figures you'd expect, and that's a one Jason Day.
After the U.S. Open concluded two weeks ago, which Justin Rose ultimately prevailed as Phil Mickelson took a devastating sixth second place finish, Day established himself as the only golfer on the planet to finish in the top 10 in both majors this year.
While his countryman, Adam Scott, would be the Aussie to don the green jacket back in April -- the first to do so after so many well-documented years of epic, heart-wrenching collapses -- Day rounded out in a respectable third, two shots back from a playoff between Angel Cabrera and Scott, who buried El Pato with a 12-footer on the second playoff hole. And, while it was Rose who limped away from Merion with the lowest score come the 72nd green, it was Day again who was there to challenge, this time finishing second along with Mickelson.
"Well, I mean, I've only won once out here on the Tour," Day said at his press conference after Wednesday's practice round before the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club. "Although I've only won once, I've come close, very, very close a few times now. I think it's close. I think the biggest thing for me was just trying to feel comfortable in my own shoes out here.
"Everyone talks about how -- that comfort level. Across the board from when I was a junior to amateur to professional, it's always taken me a little bit to feel comfortable in myself, in my own shoes.
"I think it's coming along nicely. I've been working hard this year. I came off a pretty average year last year, and I'm a lot more motivated this year, which has been good, and the results have shown in the first half of the season."
True to his words, Day's 2012 campaign was, by his standards, mediocre at best. But the 25-year-old Australian has been displaying shades reminiscent, perhaps even improved upon, of his 2011 form, unarguably his best season on Tour. That year, as one of a pantheon of promising up-and-coming 20-somethings along with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, and Hunter Mahan, Day eclipsed the top 25 in 12 of his 18 made cuts, finishing in the top 10 in 10 of those.
At the time, it looked as only a matter of time before it became a two-man race between the Irishman and the Australian as the future face of the Tour, heirs to Woods' throne. But then McIlroy stormed Congressional for the 2011 U.S. Open -- where Day finished eight shots back in second -- and smoked the field by another eight shots at the PGA Championship just two months later, while Day proved that he could contend in the biggies, but not much more than just that.
"Probably the close calls that I've had at Merion and Augusta," Day said of where he finds assurance that he knows a major isn't too far around the corner. "Just knowing that I can play against the best players in the world with everyone watching around the world. The biggest events of the year, knowing that I can step up and can play against those guys and hit the shots at the right time.
"It brings a lot of confidence to my game that the little things that I've been doing in the off weeks and everything that I've been doing in the off season is paying off, which is nice."
And, oh, it is paying off. He's already made more than $2.5 million in just 13 events this year, more than double that of his entire 2012 season, and he might just be the new king of the Best Player to Never Have Won a Major Club -- yet. They're sure to come. It happens with nearly every player who hangs around and hangs around and hangs around in golf's Big Four. Just take a look at his buddy, Scott, who finally picked up his first major at the Masters after a heartbreaking collapse at the British Open, in which his bogeyed the final four holes, and a bevy of other near misses.
"He's knocking on the door every major it seems," Scott said. "He's got the major game look. So he should feel confident, and he should be thinking he's going to go and win every major he plays, especially at Augusta, I would say. It seems like he's got that place dialed in after three starts, and that's a great way to start there. Everyone does, and Jason will at some point. But right now he should be looking at winning them, winning them early."
"It seems like Jason's got something figured out," Scott added. "That he shows up and contends. That's something I searched for for a long time."
If the past is telling, which in golf it tends to be so, Day's search could be coming to a close.
Travis Mewhirter has been working in the golf industry since 2007, when he was a bag room manager at Piney Branch Golf Club in Carroll County, Maryland, and has been involved, as a player, since 2004. Since then, he has worked at Hayfields Country Club, where the Constellation Energy Classic was formerly held, and has covered golf at the high school, college, and professional levels.
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