True grit: Vertigo-stricken Jason Day guts out the round of his life

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — As Jason Day walked unsteadily uphill from the 18th green, away from the greatest and grittiest golf round of his life, he stopped to shake one hand.

D.J. Gregory was there waiting for him. As usual.

Gregory is a close friend from Savannah, Ga., who hasn't missed a PGA Tour event in eight years. He's enlisted Day to help his Walking For Kids Foundation, which supports a variety of children's charities. He is a marvel in his own right.

Gregory has endured a life with cerebral palsy, a condition that has forced him to have five surgeries. He limps badly and relies on a cane to get around – but he refuses to submit to living in a wheelchair, even though he was told at a young age that would likely be his fate.

He's an inspirational guy. But D.J. Gregory was the one who was inspired Saturday at the U.S. Open, by his friend Jason Day.

"That guy has more heart and determination than I do," Gregory said, his voice choking.

Day had just finished moving everyone at Chambers Bay. Thousands of fans rose to their feet to applaud his 2-under-par 68 that left him tied for the Open lead going into Sunday. Day carded the second-best round of the day and one of just six rounds under par – and he did it while battling vertigo.

Drugged, dizzy and shaky is no way to play great golf. But Day did it, on an afternoon when the course devoured the field. Players in the peak of health were reduced to hacks – whiny hacks, many of them, complaining about course conditions.

To them, Jason Day can raise a large cup of shut up.

He somehow kept his concentration together well enough to move eight spots up the leaderboard. He will play in the final group Sunday, in pursuit of his first major championship.

It was an amazing performance that got better as it got harder.

Day said the nausea kicked in on the 13th hole, and by No. 16 he was shaking. On the 17th, the 27-year-old Australian struggled with the simple task of bending down and sticking a tee in the ground – yet he made birdie. By the 18th, it looked like he might reprise his collapse from the day before on the final hole.

On Friday, Day went down walking to the ninth green and stayed down for several minutes as paramedics came to his aid. After finishing the hole, he sank to one knee. After signing his scorecard, Day was quickly taken for medical attention.

The vertigo that led to a withdrawal from the World Golf Championship in August 2014 had returned. At precisely the wrong time. Day was playing well at Chambers Bay – he was 2-under par, three strokes back of the lead after Friday's round – but this presented a serious challenge.

That led to widespread speculation that he might have to withdraw from the tournament. He answered the bell Saturday but it was questionable whether he could complete the round – and highly doubtful whether he would play well.

"I knew he was going to try," Day's wife, Ellie, said. "He wants it. But I was nervous that he wasn't going to make it around."

He nearly didn't.

Day walked off the 17th green and through a tunnel under the grandstand to the 18th tee. When he got there, he put his right hand on his golf bag and his left hand on his knee and bent over.

When he stood back up straight, Day blinked and exhaled several times. He shook his head, as if trying to clear his vision. He started to address his ball, but backed off twice.

Finally, he summoned his concentration and struck his drive on the par-5 finishing hole. It faded far right, landing on top of a hill between a bunker and a hospitality chalet. From there he played smartly back into the fairway, then flushed a beautiful iron shot that funneled to within six feet of the hole. When Day arced in the putt for birdie, the grandstand exploded.

Despite looking like he might keel over at any minute, Day finished birdie-birdie.

"I started shaking on 16 tee and just tried to get it in, really," he said to a USGA pool reporter outside the scorer's trailer. "Just wanted to get it in."

Day spoke just a few words to Ellie on the walk off the course, unable to say much. Shortly after signing his card, he was ushered onto a black courtesy shuttle, looking the picture of misery.

"He looks rough," she said.

Sunday figures to be another steep challenge for Day. His ability to concentrate and focus will be taxed again. If he somehow wins, it will be the most impressive major triumph since Tiger Woods captured the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg.

Even if he doesn't win, what he did Saturday won't be forgotten. Not by the gallery, and not by the guy he greeted walking off 18.

D.J. Gregory was there, as usual, and sickness was not going to prevent Jason Day from paying his respects.

"When he said hi, he didn't say it very loud," Gregory said. "He was hurting. But he has heart."