MIAMI • Jason Day has a burning ambition to get back to the top of the rankings and he made a huge leap with a two-stroke victory at the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina on Sunday.
The win, however, did not come easy for the former world No. 1, who said that he was "fighting demons" the whole day, wayward driving and squandering a three-shot lead on the back nine with consecutive bogeys, before rising to the occasion and hitting one of the best clutch shots of his life.
After a birdie at the par-four 16th, the Australian took aim at the par-three 17th with a seven-iron from 230 yards and launched his ball as high as a 14-storey building.
It landed some 40 feet short and finally clattered against the flagstick on the fifth bounce. Day was unlucky not to make a hole-in-one, but the stick also saved his ball from rolling off the back of the green.
"When I hit it, it was on a cracking line, it was beautiful," the 30-year-old told reporters after his 12th PGA Tour victory.
The ensuing birdie restored his two-shot lead and he parred the last to shoot a three-under 68 and finish on 272, two strokes ahead of Americans Aaron Wise (68) and Nick Watney (69) at Quail Hollow.
Tiger Woods struggled in his first event since sharing 32nd at last month's Masters. He fired a 74, his first birdie-less round since 2014, to finish tied 55th on 286.
Day rated the victory one of the best of his career, not because of the quality of his play but more due to his ability to get the job done without his best game.
"I was fighting demons out there because when you're not hitting it good, it just feels like the life is getting sucked out of you," he added.
"I had no idea where the ball was going today. I had no confidence in my ability to hit proper tee shots. I was just trying to keep it inside the tree line. My short game stood the test, which is nice.
"This is probably one of the best wins I've ever had, just because of how hard everything was today."
It is only two years since Day dominated the game, but he lost his way a bit last year, his first winless season since 2013, while dealing with his mother's cancer diagnosis and symptoms of burnout.
He won nine times in the previous three seasons, including a Major at the 2015 PGA Championship.
But a play-off win at the Farmers Insurance Open in January showed that he was back in business, and his Wells Fargo victory elevated him from 14th to seventh in the world rankings yesterday.
"I got burnt out being No. 1," he said. "You've to give a lot of time to a lot of people and, sometimes, you don't get a lot of time for yourself.
"Last year was a good kick in the butt, not playing great and seeing a lot of the other guys succeed. So I really kind of rededicated myself to getting back to No. 1... My next step is to try to win a Major this year."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE