Former world number one 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.
Day had an awful day of wayward driving and squandered 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, he took aim at the par-three 17th with a seven-iron from 230 yards and launched his ball 142 feet, as high as a 14-storey building, into the air.
It landed some 40 feet short of the pin and finally clattered against the bottom of 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 Australian told reporters after securing his 12th PGA Tour victory.
“And then it just had this massive bounce, hit on the downslope and fortunately hit the pin, which was nice, and went to about two or three feet.
“Things like that is what you need to win golf tournaments.”
The ensuing birdie restored Day’s two-shot lead and he parred the last to shoot 68 and finish at 12-under 272, two strokes ahead of Americans Aaron Wise (68) and Nick Watney (69) at Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
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 said.
“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.
A win at Torrey Pines in January showed that he was back in business, and his Quail Hollow victory is projected to elevate him to seventh in the world rankings.
“I got burnt out being number one,” said the 30-year-old.
“You’ve got to give a lot of time to a lot of people and sometimes you don’t get a lot of time to yourself.
“Last year was a good kick in the butt, not playing great and then seeing a lot of the other guys succeed.
“So I really kind of re-dedicated myself to getting back to number one.
“This is a good kick in the right direction having two wins this kind of early in the season. My next step is to try to win a major this year.”
Tiger Woods slumps to 55th after birdie-free final round
Tiger Woods had his first birdie-free round since 2014 to finish equal 55th at the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina on Sunday, his second-worst result of the year.
Woods closed with a 74 to finish at two-over-par 286 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, 14 strokes behind winner Jason Day.
It was only the 11th time in more than 1,000 rounds as a professional on the PGA Tour that Woods failed to record a birdie or eagle.
He again lamented poor putting but also failed to hit his approach shots close enough to the hole.
He had only one birdie chance from inside 10 feet — a five-footer that he missed at the par-five 10th.
“I hit the ball halfway decent today … so I wasn’t disappointed with that,” Woods told reporters.
“Again, just did not putt well and didn’t make a birdie today. I got shut out. It was just a bad week.”
In his seventh start of the year, Woods, 42, is well into a full-throttled comeback after last April’s successful back surgery.
He has made the cut in all but one start, and seemed to be nearing his old form when he contended for victory in consecutive events in Florida in March.
Woods was rated among the favourites at the U.S. Masters in April, but finished equal 32nd and blamed poor iron play.
He used a new set of irons at Quail Hollow, his own signature brand.
While hardly knocking the pins down on Sunday, he hit his irons well enough for the most part over the four rounds to suggest he is adjusting quickly to them.
The 14-times major champion said he would work on all facets of his game before the Players Championship starts in Florida on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, where he has won twice.
“I’m very pleased with the way I’m swinging,” he said.
“I need obviously to do some practising with my putter. It’s just a matter of making sure I get the right speed for those greens because (they are) going to be a little bit quicker than here.
“That’s a golf course you can’t fake it around there and you have to hit the ball well. You can’t get away with hitting it poorly.”