What rational explanation could Day have given for one of the worst decisions in the history of championship golf?
Admittedly, Day’s “snowman” on the 18th hole in the third round of the PGA Championship didn’t rise to a Van de Veldian level, because it wasn’t the final hole of the tournament, and Day didn’t have victory all but assured with sane play of the last.
But, if anything, Day’s decision-making—if you can call it that—was worse than that of Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, who lost the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie in a playoff after falling into a tie with a triple bogey on the 72nd hole.
Day’s pushed drive on No. 18 came to rest on pine straw behind a tree. Television commentators were dumbstruck when Day indicated he planned to punch his second shot up the cart path to right of the trees past a hospitality pavilion that was dangerously close to his intended line.
There was little to gain with that approach, and the risks were enormous, as Day quickly realized when his second shot crashed into an unplayable lie in bushes next to the pavilion. Forced to take a penalty drop behind the hedge, Day nudged his fourth shot into deep rough to the right of the fairway, hacked out short of the green, chipped up and lipped out his putt for triple bogey.
The “8” on the card dropped him back to even par and out of contention for the title.
Contrast Day’s play of the 18th with that of Louis Oosthuizen, who likewise drove into the right trees. Oosthuizen chipped out sideways to the fairway, 134 yards from the front-left flagstick, hit a wedge shot to 3½ feet and holed the putt for par, preserving a 5-under-par score for the championship and keeping his hopes for a second major title alive.
A bogey on the final hole would have kept Day at 3 under—with a chance in the final round. At even par, he tees off on Sunday at 1:15 p.m. with no shot at victory. There are 15 players ahead of him, five of them clear of the Australian by five strokes or more.
Just as mystifying as Day's misguided choice was the inaction on the part of his caddie and mentor Colin Swatton, who could have stepped in and stopped the nonsense--or at least put up more of an argument.
Winless on the PGA Tour since 2015, Day arrived a Quail Hollow earlier in the week, saying he was hungry again after falling precipitously from No. 1 to No. 7 in the world.
But the only thing he’s likely to take from this PGA Championship is a bad taste in his mouth.
(Jason Day standing: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)