OAKVILLE, Ont. – The unofficial title of “best golfer in the world to never win a major” could be a considered a stigma by some players.
Jason Day, apparently, is not phased by it.
The 27-year-old Australian can make a case for that “crown” with six top-five finishes in majors, the last of which came a week ago when he missed out on a playoff in the British Open Championship by a shot.
But if there has been a hallmark of Day’s professional career to this point, it’s his resilience. The latest example of that came Sunday in the final round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club.
Day birdied the final three holes – the last of which came on a slick 22-foot downhill birdie putt on the 18th hole – to earn a one-shot victory over Bubba Watson.
It’s Day’s second win of the season on the PGA Tour and the fourth of his career. He finished at 4-under-par 68 Sunday and 17-under 271 for the tournament.
“All those little hiccups along the way with major championships, just falling short, not doing enough, all those things are just setting up, hopefully, for it to become easier for me to finish it off the way I need to,” Day said. “This was a good indication of where my game is at in regard to that. I put myself in contention over the last two weeks, fell short a little bit last week, but I knew that my game was ready.”
When his birdie try on the 72nd hole Monday at the Open Championship came up just inches short, the pain was plastered across Day’s face. It’s in times like those that Day remembers the lessons of his late father, Alvin, who died of stomach cancer when Jason was just 12.
“I just want to be the best I can be while I’m on this earth and while I have the opportunity to play golf,” Day said. “I want to show people that I’m not going to stop, I’m not going to quit, I’m not going to stop fighting until it’s over. That’s the way I’m going to play the rest of my life.
“That’s the way I was raised. … That’s what I remember every time I play golf. Even though I may be 72nd, dead last, I’m still going to keep fighting because there’s one little thing you can learn each day. To be able to do that on the 72nd hole was tremendous.”
Day’s putt gave him a two-shot lead, but the tournament was far from over. That’s because Watson and Canadian David Hearn were standing in the fairway on the 18th hole, watching everything unfold. Both players were at 15-under, meaning they needed to eagle the par-5 to force a playoff.
Neither could, though, as Hearn’s approach found the sand and Watson airmailed the green. His chip came to rest about 18 inches from the hole, leading to a birdie and a 16-under total.
“I hit it perfect,” Watson said of his approach shot. “I had 186 hole back into the breeze. It was 190 with an 8-iron. It just bounced over the green. I knew it was going to be tough. I was hoping the wind would hit it hard, but it didn’t, I hit it so good.”
Watson birdied the final four holes for a round of 3-under 69.
“I knew I wasn’t far off,” he said. “I knew I could get hot, make a few putts, and that’s what I did down the stretch. I hit a couple good shots, couple good putts and lost by one. I guess one is enough.”
While Watson sputtered to a 2-over start through the first 10 holes, Day came out blazing. Three birdies in his first seven holes briefly tied him with Hearn for the lead at 16-under, but two consecutive bogeys on the eighth and ninth holes followed and dropped him back into second.
But again, Day showed his resilience by keeping the round together with a clutch par save on the par-3 12th hole, when he missed the green right and overcame a poor chip shot by sinking a 12-footer.
“The save on 12 was crucial for me to keep the momentum rolling,” said Day, who pocketed $1.044 million for the win. “The mental focus that I had this week and last week and the way I’ve prepared … is exactly the make-up that I need going into future tournaments.”
Day got back into a tie for the lead with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th hole, then took the lead with another birdie on the par-4 17th. A mammoth 386-yard drive left just 69 yards to the pin, and Day put his approach shot inside 12 feet.
“I’ve never hit a drive that long,” Day said. “I was timing my drives really well this week. For some reason it was just one of those freak kind of drives where it just popped off really nice.”
Day knew his work wasn’t done, though, and that he would need to hole his birdie putt on 18. His mind flashed back to the Old Course, and the pain that came from leaving that putt short.
“Make sure you get it to the hole,” he reminded himself. “I knew that I needed to hole that putt. It was crucial.”
Before it even hit the bottom, Day let out a yell. He knew it was in.
“This is why we practice,” he said. “This is why we work so hard and put the hours in, not only on the golf course, but off the golf course with the body and mind. Just to have this one little moment, where you can somehow freeze it”
It’s another step on the journey to Day’s ultimate goal, which is to reach No. 1 in the world.
“I know that I can’t do that without wins,” he said. “Big wins like this.”