Jason Day heads into the 80th Masters as the world No 1, has a major in the bag and is licking his lips at the prospect of locking horns with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in an exciting new era for golf, writes Martin Dempster.
Yet, exactly five years ago at this same venue, the Australian was in the depths of despair on the eve of making his debut here, having started to wonder if his career was going to prove unfulfilled at the top level. “I was sitting across the road in a bus with my agent, my wife and a sports psychologist, and I’m saying, ‘I just do not like the game right now. I’m just having a very, very hard time picking up the golf club to even just enjoy myself out there’,” revealed Day. “We came to the conclusion that it might be my last Masters, so I may as well enjoy it.”
He certainly did. Finishing second to South African Charl Schwartzel saw to that. It was the turning point in Day’s career and he’s rarely looked back. “I loved the game again,” added the 28-year-old from Queensland. “Golf is a game with emotional highs and lows and the times when you’re going through very rough times you’re thinking about getting rid of caddies and coaches and agents, and,” he laughed, “sometimes wives.
“You have to pull your whole team together. You have to pull them tighter and you have to feed off them a lot more. You have to understand that they are there and you’re hiring them to give you a straight answer. I don’t pay my guys to give me ‘yes’ answers. It was a tough time but I’m glad I got through it and sitting here today No 1 in the world.”
Plenty things point to Day being the man to beat this week. He’s been close here twice in the past, having also been third in 2013. His breakthrough major win came with a record 20-under-par total in the USPGA Championship last August. And he’s reclaimed top spot in the world rankings with back-to-back wins in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play.
“The room’s a little bit more full this year than it’s been in the past,” he joked at a packed press conference. “It’s a good feeling to be here as No 1 in the world and coming off the back of how I’ve been playing has been fantastic. But I don’t think I’m the favourite this week as there’s a lot of people out there that can play well this week and win. There’s not just one heavy favourite this week, which is fantastic. I think it’s good for the game of golf and I think it’s good for this tournament, as well.”
Day’s dream of becoming the first Australian to have a Green Jacket slipped on their shoulders died when Adam Scott beat him to it three years ago. With a brace of wins under his belt, too, this season, the 35-year-old is feeling quietly confident about his chances of now becoming a multiple Masters champion. “I’ve played some good golf over the Florida stretch, but that’s nearly a month ago now and I can’t rely on that to get to where I want to be this week,” said Scott. “It’s a new week and a new challenge and I’ve got three tough days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday – to put myself in a position to win a Masters championship. Everything in the lead‑up has gone well. It’s up to me to execute it now. It’s as simple as that.”
Scott’s success in 2013 – he beat Angel Cabrera in a play-off – was secured with a long putter. Having recorded wins in the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship since deciding to ditch that following the anchoring ban, he has adjusted well to a short putter again. “It’s been a little bit of a process but I would say I’m fully through that transition period,” he added. “The way I feel is no different than when I was with the longer putter. The drills are all the same. The putter just has a shorter shaft. It might sound simple, but that’s how I’m trying to keep it.”