As disasters go, this wasn’t exactly an earthquake or a tsunami. No one died.
But in golfing terms the way Jason Day played the last two holes in the third round of the 99th USPGA Championship was the death-knell for the 2015 champion’s chances of adding his name to the giant Wanamaker Trophy for a second time.
Standing on the 17th tee it was all so different too. Day had birdied the previous three holes and had closed to within three-shots of the long-time leader, American Kevin Kisner. The momentum – such an important factor at the top level of the game – was all the 29-year old Queenslander’s.
At which point just about everything went wrong. Oh, so wrong. Having missed the par-3 17th green to the right, Day took three to get down. Bad; not exactly terrible. But the drive he pushed miles right of the 18th fairway was just the start of it all. Attempting a vicious hook around a tree that was dangerously adjacent to his body, Day sent his ball into some deep bushes. A penalty drop followed. Then a pitch out. Then a shot to the green that slipped off the edge. Then the inevitable three-putts from just off the green. Eight. A 77. And a seemingly insurmountable seven-shot deficit going into the final 18-holes.
Day’s implosion was eerily similar to his second round at The Open Championship last month when he picked up two birdies to close to within four shots of the clubhouse lead with three holes remaining, only to self-destruct with a trio of sixes to drop five strokes and tumble off the leaderboard.
As he did at Birkdale, and not surprisingly, Day declined all interviews in the aftermath of his latest departure from reality. Besides, what could he say?
“I didn’t even know what Jason made and I was keeping his score,” said Kisner.
“He’s in mourning,” chipped-in six-time major champion and CBS commentator Nick Faldo, for once neatly summing up the mood.
All of which was in sharp contrast to the men left at the top of the leaderboard. Kisner leads on seven-under par, one shot clear of compatriot – and last man into the field after his maiden PGA Tour victory in the Barracuda Classic one week ago – Chris Stroud and World No.3 Hideki Matsuyama. Justin Thomas and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are also lurking three back.
Perhaps ominously for the hopes of those around him, the form horse in the pack, Matsuyama, had this to say after holing-out for a scrappy 73: “I'm happy to just to be one stroke back and still have a chance and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Indeed, on a day when the best score was a four-under par 67 from long-hitting American JB Holmes – who was out early in the first threesome – most players left the course and the high humidity looking for nothing more than a long cool drink and a some air-conditioning.
“The course is really tough,” gasped Marc Leishman, who shot 71 to be four-over par and T-47. “The rough is long. And the greens are very severe and fast. It is more important than normal to be on the fairway. There isn’t much chance of controlling the ball from the rough. Which is how it should be in a major. Whoever wins this week will have earned it. The person who plays the best will win. Anyone struggling with even one aspect of the game won’t have any chance.
“I feel like 71 is a good score today. It doesn’t really set up that well for me because you have to hit so many draws off the tee and into the greens. You have to be right on your game on every hole.”
The only other Australian to survive the halfway cut was Adam Scott. The former Masters champion was round in a 74 that would have been better but for a double-bogey six on the final hole. His only consolation? That was two shots better than Jason Day managed.