Jason Day is back on the short list of Masters Tournament contenders after a year he’d rather forget, both on and off the golf course.
The 30-year-old Day, a former world No. 1, went winless last year.
He’d lost confidence in his game even before last year’s Masters and the result was a tie for 22nd. It did include a strong 69-71 weekend after he opened with 74-76 and made the cut on the number.
“It’s almost like you got your tail between your legs, you’re kind of sneaking inside (of Augusta National),” Day said. “But it’s something that, I had played some pretty good golf over the last few years, except for last year, and you just kind of get used to it. And then you don’t get talked about and you’re like, hold on, there’s something wrong here. It’s a good kick in the butt because you know that you need to get back there. If people aren’t coming up to you, you’re doing something wrong. And to be able to get back in the winner’s circle this year is a good step in the right direction.”
It happened in his first PGA Tour start of 2018 at Torrey Pines, where he beat Alex Noren in a six-hole playoff that ended with one hole on Monday.
The victory, Day’s first since the 2016 Players Championship, has given him the momentum he lacked last year.
“You definitely can feel it, like I felt it at the start of this year, I felt like I was going to come out and play well and I did which was great,” he said. “So I just got to kind of bear down right now and just keep pushing and grinding away because I don’t want to, I don’t want this to stop, I want the success to keep moving forward.”
Day made his normal 20 starts on the PGA Tour last year despite worries off the course.
He revealed in late March that his mother, Dening, had a cancerous mass removed from her left lung. Day was so overwhelmed with worry that he withdrew after six holes of his match with Pat Perez in the Dell Match Play Championship that week. Jason’s father, Alvin, died when he was 12.
“Last year was pretty long,” said Day, who had only five top-10 finishes after being in double digits in that category in both 2015 and 2016. “I was burnt out at the start of the year, and then what happened to my mom made that even longer. I felt mentally stressed and it was hard for me to be on the golf course. And then I lost some confidence and then it was – it’s pretty quick downward spiral from there.”
Day’s mother did not need chemotherapy after her surgery and is recovering.
Day drew on the support from his extended family and fellow players, including Tiger Woods, after revealing his mother was sick. He said he got just as many text messages in support as he gets when he wins a tournament.
“Jase has shown this year already that his head’s probably in a better spot and with winning in San Diego, I think,” said fellow Australian and close friend Marc Leishman, who said Day’s mother was doing better health-wise.
Day, who spent most of 2016 and the early part of 2017 as the No. 1 player of the world, was ranked 13th at the end of 2017. He moved up to 10th after his victory in late January and moved to eighth after a tie for second two weeks later at Pebble Beach.
“This year my whole mindset’s different, I’m very motivated to get back to the No. 1 spot, and I know that the only way to get back to the No. 1 spot is win, and that’s what I’ve just got to do.”