AUSTIN (Texas) • On the opening day of golf's WGC Match Play Championship on Wednesday, Rory McIlroy summoned the spirit of recovery that defines a champion.
Jason Day is now seeking something similar, but in a physical rather than competitive sense, simply to prolong his interest in the event.
McIlroy is not only the defending champion but arrived in Austin holding a superb record, which showed only three defeats in 18 matchplay outings.
At two down to world No. 66 Thorbjorn Olesen with five holes to play, the world No. 3 was in trouble.
The devil in the detail is that the Northern Irishman has routinely earned points the hard way. So it proved again.
He triumphed at the last, aided by a horrible greenside shank from his Danish opponent that triggered sympathy, even from the victor.
"You feel bad because he's up basically the whole match, and to finish like that as well," conceded the four-time Major winner. "It was his to lose. I feel a little bit bad for him but I'm just happy that I snuck through with the win."
Day had been in deep physical distress after seeing off Graeme McDowell by 3&2. That result would have been altogether different had a back injury not impacted on the world No. 2 when four holes from home and three up.
"Up until that point there was nothing," confirmed Day's caddie, Colin Swatton. "It was just out of the blue." Day literally limped over the line before immediately heading for medical treatment.
With only a fortnight to go before the Masters, for which Day is among the favourites, alarm bells duly rang from Texas to his native Australia. Suddenly - and only time will tell for how long - his situation has plunged firmly into the realms of the unknown.
On the 16th tee Day dropped his driver and doubled up in agony after a wild hook into a bunker. Describing it as "searing" to friends afterwards, the Australian said both sides of his back had "seized up" and he felt pain through his legs.
Day is one of a few players to have a hotline to Tiger Woods; that communication may prove beneficial once again. The 14-time Major winner, after all, has become all too familiar with afflictions of the back.
Elsewhere, world No. 1 Jordan Spieth got the better of Jamie Donaldson 3&2 before admitting "everything is kind of coming together" in what will serve as a warning to fellow players before the Masters.
Defeat did not eliminate competitors as Wednesday was the first of three days of group play, with the winners of the 16 four-man groups advancing to single elimination this weekend.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS
WGC DELL MATCHPLAY
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