Daylight after false dawn

Jason Day holds his son Dash while wife Ellie hugs caddie Colin Swatten after the red-hot golfer bags his fourth title in his last six events, at the BMW Championship.
Jason Day holds his son Dash while wife Ellie hugs caddie Colin Swatten after the red-hot golfer bags his fourth title in his last six events, at the BMW Championship.PHOTO: REUTERS

Day finally has his moment in the sun - No.1 ranking - after early promise did not yield major wins

CHICAGO • Jason Day has made golf look simple lately but, after claiming the world No. 1 ranking that he has long coveted, he reveals that it has been anything but easy.

"It's been very, very difficult for me to try and downplay getting to No. 1 because I've really wanted to reach this goal for a long time now," the 27-year-old Australian said.

Another convincing win in the US PGA Tour's BMW Championship on Sunday elevated him to the top.

Day led wire to wire - jump-starting his run with a spectacular first-round 61.

His 22-under total of 262 had echoes of his record-setting 20-under triumph at the PGA Championship last month, when he at last broke through for his first Major title.

He finished six shots ahead of Daniel Berger.

His fifth win of the season has him poised atop the FedExCup play-off standings - in pole position to seize the US$10 million (S$14 million) bonus at the season-ending Tour Championship.

But it is the No. 1 ranking that resonates with Day, even though he is the third man in three weeks to claim it after Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy traded the top spot.

McIlroy finished in joint-fourth at 14 under on Sunday while Spieth shot 70 to finish tied for 13th.

The Australian said it was a dream he had nursed since childhood when he was inspired by the exploits of Tiger Woods.

But he was chided as a presumptuous upstart when, as a young pro, he told reporters on a conference call that he believed he could topple Woods from the summit.

Day admitted on Sunday that he was unprepared for the criticism he received then.

"It wasn't the response that I was expecting," he said. "I mean, I expected to get a little bit, but not the response that I got from practically everyone."

As his career progressed, and his undeniable talent failed to yield a Major title, the naysayers gained steam. But all that changed in August when he built on the momentum of another Major near-miss at the British Open.

He won the Canadian Open, then made his major breakthrough at Whistling Straits.

Now with four triumphs in his last six events, he is on top of the world - and can afford to be magnanimous when contemplating his earlier critics. "I'd love to say, 'I told you so', but that wouldn't be very nice," he said with a chuckle.

"I would still thank them because that was kind of the fuel that lit the fire for me, especially with the dedication over these last few years.

"I know that a lot of people were thinking against me on that."

Reaching No. 1 has not left Day devoid of goals. Even with five wins to Spieth's four this season, he knows the 22-year-old American's two Major titles and wealth of other strong finishes could still make him the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Day would like to strengthen his claim to that honour with one more win in the Tour Championship. Looking further ahead, he wants to bag more Grand Slams.

It does not leave much time to contemplate the view from the top - which Day said so far does not seem that different anyway.

"I feel like I did yesterday, the same. Once again, I'm just a regular guy like everyone else.

"Everyone has dreams. As long as you stick to them and work hard, you can accomplish anything."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2015, with the headline 'Daylight after false dawn'. Print Edition | Subscribe