Jason Day watched as his golf ball landed 45 feet from the hole on the 17th green and started hoping for a miracle.
Day was in a treacherous spot. Clinging to a one-shot lead, he had bogeyed two of the past four holes and knocked it in the water once. Now came No.17, the hardest hole on the course Sunday and over water once more. It also had a flagstick “that looks really tiny from 220 yards away,” as Day would say later.
This ball wasn’t headed into the water, at least. But the Quail Hollow Club greens were playing like table tops. And Day also knew he had hit his 7-iron a little harder than he wanted to because he was so pumped up.
At first, the ball had enough momentum that it looked like it might trampoline right off the green and straight toward another bogey. It took one huge bounce. Then a second, smaller one. A third. A fourth.
Then the ball hit the flagstick, nearly dropped in, and came to rest 3 feet from the hole as applause thundered over the course.
Day laughed in delight. This was not only the shot of the day, but also of the entire 2018 Wells Fargo Championship. He would tap in for birdie, keying his two-shot win – the 12th of his PGA Tour career - on a warm and sunny May afternoon in Charlotte.
“Things like that are what you need to win golf tournaments,” Day said. He’s right – it’s best to be both lucky and good, and Day was both on Sunday. On an afternoon when he admittedly had “no control” of his driver, he still fought his way to victory.
'Punched in the gut'
Even on the final hole, with a two-shot lead, Day made it hard on himself. But he had a buffer thanks to his bouncing birdie on 17, and that helped him mentally as he poured in a 7-foot putt for a par on 18 that clinched the victory.
Said Day: “You get punched in the gut a couple of times out there. ...It feels like you’re in the 10th round in a fight, and being able to get back on your feet and push forward was huge.”
Day won without having his best stuff, especially off the tee. He found himself in trouble a number of times and limped to four bogeys during the final round after only making a total of three for the first three rounds. But he survived to give the Wells Fargo another high-profile winner in its 16-year tournament history, joining the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.
An Australian and a former world No. 1 for 56 weeks, Day started and ended Sunday with a two-shot lead.
But what happened in the middle was nothing close to a cakewalk. “I was fighting demons out there,” Day said, “because when you’re not hitting it good, it just feels like the life is getting sucked out of you.”
'I got burnt out'
Day lost all of his lead at one point, as 21-year-old Aaron Wise gave chase and actually caught him for a few minutes in the final hour of golf. But then Day righted himself and played the “Green Mile” – Quail Hollow’s famed final three holes – in 2-under par to win by two over Wise and Nick Watney.
After going winless in 2017, Day dropped out of the Top 10 in the world golf rankings and came to Charlotte at No. 14. Day was concerned about his mother’s health and also somewhat tired from the work it took to get to the top. “I got burnt out being No.1,” he said simply.
Day also admitted earlier in the week that because golfers make so much money at the top that you can get too “comfortable” in a hurry. Day said his goal was to make himself “uncomfortable” this year, because that would mean he was doing something right.
Day and his wife also have two young children – their son and daughter added a large cuteness factor to the post-tournament celebration. They are also expecting their third child. And all parents know that children have a way of re-ordering your priorities.
But Day, 30, has entered 2018 with a renewed determination to reach No. 1. This was his second victory of 2018 and his 12th on the PGA Tour. He saved himself all week with his putter. Perhaps the best putter on tour, Day has made an astonishing 92 percent of his putts from 10 feet and under this season. He took only 22 putts Sunday in his final round.
Tiger sounds off on Day
As good friend Tiger Woods said of Day’s quest to grab No.1 again on Sunday: “Now that he’s got a taste of it, he wants it back again. That’s cool to see. He’s willing to get his hands dirty again and do all the legwork off the golf course away from tournaments that it takes, the hours upon hours of countless practice that we have to log in.”
Day said he wants the No.1 ranking again for mostly intangible reasons. “I think if you look around any room you’re in and there’s no one that’s better than you, you know what I mean? Ever since I was a kid, even more so than like major championships, I always held No. 1 above those for some reason. Just in my mind, I thought that was the best thing ever.”
After sleeping on his 54-hole lead Saturday night, Day began Sunday by watching some NBA highlights from the night before, trying to find some inspiration. “It’s probably a good thing I watched LeBron James’ buzzer-beater this morning,” Day said.
LeBron’s running bank shot to beat Toronto Saturday night had a very high degree of difficulty, to be sure. But nearly holing out a 7-iron from about 220 yards is even harder.
What Day did on No. 17 will always be remembered as one of the best shots ever hit at the Wells Fargo Championship, and on Sunday it won him the tournament.