By Ron Patey
Jason Day of Australia brought the thunder from Down Under, not to mention steady nerves on and around the greens, to add another PGA Tour victory to his extensive hit parade. The win at the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play event in Austin, Texas also put him back atop the Official World Golf Rankings ahead of Jordan Spieth.
Fresh off his one-shot victory over Kevin Chappell of the U.S. a week earlier at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Day nearly needed a bail out from the one-on-one marathon tournament during his first round match on Wednesday. Playing with Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, the Aussie twisted his lower back. Against the advice of several folks in his camp, who wanted him to call it a day and get ready for The Masters in two weeks, the 28-year-old carried on.
He got into a head-to-head semi-final showdown of bombers with former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. Both players blasted tee-shots all over the rolling landscape of the Austin Country Club, and pulled off several fabulous recoveries before Day closed the deal 1-up with a mid-length par putt on the final hole. His next opponent would be Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who knocked off Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain 4&3 in the semifinals after Cabrera lost touch with his short game.
Following a bogey on the opening hole, Day could do little wrong in his 5&4 blowout of the South African. He regularly unleashed drives of more than 300 yards. And when a couple of huge tee-shots didn’t settle in the short grass, Day recovered with brilliant iron play that didn’t allow Oosthuizen any chance at a comeback. The win is the Australian’s second WGC-Dell Match Play title in three years.
Meanwhile, Tony Finau broke through for his first victory in a playoff at the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open at Cocoa Beach. Finau defeated fellow American Steve Marino on the third extra hole.
Next On The Tee: Shell Houston Open
Jordan Spieth looks to regain the mojo that carried him through 2015 and early 2016. The Texan is back in his home state, at the Golf Club of Houston for the Shell Houston Open. Spieth lost to J.B. Holmes here in 2015.
Spieth looks to build on his Hyundai Tournament of Champions win in January. Although the Texan has made six cuts in seven events this year, he generally hasn’t been in contention come late Sunday afternoon. A strong showing this weekend could bring back some of his confidence — make him a contender rather than a pretender again — with the Masters fast approaching.
Holmes looks to add another win on a track that traditionally features shaved banks and lightning-quick putting surfaces. The Kentucky native has managed a couple of T6s in 2016 at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. His larger goal, as it is for everyone else, is to prepare for The Masters.
Highly ranked players in the field include Rickie Fowler (5), Henrik Stenson (7), Dustin Johnson (9) and Patrick Reed (10). Previous winners of the Shell Houston Open teeing it up include Matt Jones (2014), D. A. Points (2013), Hunter Mahan (2012), Phil Mickelson (2011), Johnson Wagner (20 08), Stuart Appleby (2006, 1999), Robert Allenby (2000) and Vijay Singh (2002, 2004, 2005).
Golf Club of Houston will play 7,441 yards and is a par 72.
Favorites: Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, J.B. Holmes, Jordan Spieth
Players To Watch: Jimmy Walker, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Tony Finau, Phil Mickelson, Matt Every
Ron Patey covered the golf industry for 21 years as a special sections editor with Sun Media. During the past five years, Patey has been a golf writer for Examiner.com.