Date: May 10, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

White-hot Day among favourites at Sawgrass

Jason Day’s white hot streak of brilliant putting goes to the test again this week at the $US 11 million Players Championship, the United States PGA Tour’s flagship event at Sawgrass in Florida.

Day’s two wins in the early part of the season show that he is back on track after a winless 2017, and he will be close to the favourite this week at a course where he won this tournament in 2016.

The fact he has put together a season’s streak of 177 consecutive putts made inside five feet has the golf world talking. His win in the Wells Fargo Championship last weekend came with a final-round 69 in which he hit the ball poorly but continually scrambled out of trouble.

The Australian is the No. 1 ranked putter on tour this season and has climbed to an overall world ranking of No. 7, with a target of getting back to the No. 1 ranking that he first secured in 2015.

Tiger Woods said this week he saw a lot of his own game in Day, with the ability to win without bringing his best golf. “We all know what kind of short game he has,’’ said Woods. “He can get up-and-down from a trash can. But that (2015) was one of those special years where he hit the ball well. He has two wins here this year, not quite as well, but that's learning how to win. I've won out here numerous times not playing well but found a way to score and get the job done. And that's what he's doing.”

Day is one of six Australians in the field. Also teeing it up are Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Rod Pampling, Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman.

The tour has set up a great first day by putting Woods with his old rival Phil Mickelson, a situation that has caused a lot of comment this week. Mickelson suggested they put away the tournament and just let the two veterans go head to head. Woods smiled at the thought. “Phil and I have a great banter,’’ he said. “We give each other needle. We always have. But I think our relationship has certainly gotten a lot closer with me being a vice captain (in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup events) the last couple teams and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things, not just the pairings but just about things in general.

The former world No. 1 also acknowledged that when he had his problems with chipping last year, prior to his back surgery, Mickelson reached out to him. It is an extraordinary statement on the fraternity of golf, given that they have never previously been close. “You know, when I was trying to deal with the nerve in my back and trying to come back and trying to play and I wasn't very good, he always texted me some very encouraging words.

“And then on top of that, when you guys all saw how I was chipping so poorly, my nerve and my back was not doing very good, and I was flinching a lot, and he offered numerous times to help me out with technique and just talk about it and philosophy. And I said, yes, you know, you and I have the same philosophy in how we approach chipping and how we do it. I just can't physically do it. But now it's different. I feel better, and my short game has turned around.’’