With certain players come certain drawbacks – with Jason Day it’s his body. Injuries happen in golf, occasionally odd ones like Dustin Johnson slipping in his socks, but the Aussie broke new ground when he picked up his latest back injury after giving his three-year-old daughter, Lucy, a farewell kiss on the eve of his ninth Masters.
One hole later he was lying on a towel by the 2nd tee with a trainer contorting him into some very odd positions. The World No. 14, who has struggled with back problems since he was 13 and has even tried blowing into balloons to help get his ribcage into the right place, looked to be on his way home – plus one after one and his body already broken.
This is not really what you want to see when your main bet (Jason Day) is lying underneath his physio after one and a half holes on Thursday… pic.twitter.com/BaPuWbRZQS
— Mark Townsend (@MarkTownsendNCG) April 11, 2019
The 31-year-old emerged fairly battered, taking miniscule steps, grimacing with every move and, alongside the brick shithouses of Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, he somehow edged his way round in 70. Even retrieving his ball from the hole looked to be an exhausting process and the clever money was on Day not being able to tee it up on Friday morning.
A day later he added a 67 to sit at seven under and in with a great shout of a second major.
So what was different on Friday?
“I drove it nicely, hit my iron shots closer and putted really decently. I birdied all the par 5s which was nice. You can’t force the issue too much. On 12 I tried to get it a little bit too close to that flag and pushed it a little bit and ended up bogeying it and then came back strong,” Day began his post-round interview.
Your back Jason, how’s your back?
“I feel good, I may actually bend down and give my daughter a kiss a little bit differently. It was funny, it happened two minutes before I had to tee off. It’s actually a different injury, I’ve been battling my back this year but this happened on my left side which is strange for me, it usually happens on my right.
“Sometimes I wake up and I feel like I’m 50, sometimes I wake up and I feel like I’m 70, and sometimes I wake up and feel like I’m 18 again. It just comes and goes. My practice swings hurt a little bit and walking this course was a little bit tough but I got some work in last night and this morning and loosened it up nicely. It’s not like Bay Hill where everything tightened up, the last few days I’ve loosened everything up.”
That withdrawal at Bay Hill a month ago, where he lasted just six holes on Thursday, was his ninth WD in his career – he pulled out of the 2012 Masters with an ankle problem – and led to four injections in and around the spine for the first time.
Given his problems, and given the modern way, Day gets plenty of stick on social media and the like but, speaking at Sawgrass a few weeks ago, he doesn’t give the haters too much thought.
“If people make memes about me, I think a lot of them are funny. It’s fine. It is what it is. People trying to be funny and I get a good laugh out of it and I’m OK with that. You can tell between people that are being funny and people that really hate you. I don’t have a problem with them, they have a problem with me. So it’s more on them than myself.”
One lingering major memory is of Day collapsing from vertigo on his final hole of the second round of the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay. He picked himself up to make a bogey and get into a share of ninth going into the weekend. The next day he could barely put the ball on the tee, his head was swimming and his walking was abbreviated and yet, come the final morning, he had somehow played his way into the final group.
We’d be foolish to dismiss Day. After his PGA win at Whistling Straits we thought we were all set for a Big Three showdown between he, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy in the following years. Then the gunslingers Johnson and Brooks Koepka got involved, as did Justin Thomas, while Day’s one-time World No. 1 spot – a position he held for 51 weeks – is now in the hands of Justin Rose. This year he wasn’t even involved in the pre-tournament press conferences.
When Day first came to Augusta in 2011 he almost did the unthinkable and won on his debut. Yes, yes, the Fuzzy Zoeller thing. He birdied the last two holes to get to 12 under as he and Adam Scott looked like threatening the Aussie hoodoo but Charl Schwartzel then birdied the last four. But it still proved to be a pivotal week in Day’s career.
“When I first came here I was almost close to quitting the game. I met my agent, Bud, and a sports psychologist, and we ended up coming up with a plan of just going out and having fun. I ended up finishing second.”