Golf: Tiger's cheers make his Day

Jason Day poses with the trophy following the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Jason Day poses with the trophy following the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.PHOTO: AFP

In-form Aussie climbs to world No. 2 as he wins at Bay Hill to gear up for the US Masters

MIAMI • Jason Day emulated his boyhood idol Tiger Woods when he clinched a one-stroke victory at golf's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida on Sunday.

He was not at the top of his game, but did enough to clinch his fifth victory in his past 12 starts on the PGA Tour.

With tournament host Arnold Palmer watching, he got up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the final hole, sinking a four-foot par putt after earlier holing a clutch 12-foot birdie at the par-three 17th.

"I just ground it out today," the Australian said in a greenside interview, after carding a closing 70 on the Bay Hill course in Orlando.

He finished at 17-under-par 271, while American Kevin Chappell (69) claimed second place after bogeying the last hole.

Day, 28, collected US$1.134 million (S$1.54 million) for his eighth victory on the Tour. He also moved past Rory McIlroy into the No. 2 slot in the world rankings, behind Jordan Spieth.

It is his first win since the BMW Championship late last year and it comes at a great time with the Masters looming on April 7.

He will be chasing back-to-back Major championship titles when he attempts to add the Green Jacket to the PGA Championship crown he won last year.

It is the third time in the last four USPGA tournaments that an Australian has won, with Adam Scott having triumphed at the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Day revealed that he had received a text message on Sunday morning from eight-time Bay Hill winner Woods, who is out indefinitely while recuperating from back surgery.

The long-hitting Australian grew up wanting to follow in the footsteps of Woods, who is 12 years older.

But Day did not play like the 14-time Major champion early in the final round, running up three bogeys in the first six holes to open the door to his rivals.

It then became a three-man race late in the round between Day, Chappell and American Troy Merritt.

Chappell, playing ahead, had the lead with one hole left, but dropped a shot at the par-four 18th after a poor drive finished in punishing rough and gave him little choice but to lay up.

That opened the door for Day, who also pushed his drive at the last hole, but drew a decent lie and was able to clear the pond in front of the green and advance his ball into a bunker.

"Regardless if you win wire to wire or you win pretty or you win ugly, a win is a win," he said. "It's a great feeling and nothing beats winning."

Merritt could have forced a play-off with a birdie at the last hole, but instead found a watery grave with his approach shot, ran up a double-bogey and tied for third with Swede Henrik Stenson, three shots off the pace.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'Tiger's cheers make his day'. Print Edition | Subscribe