By Simon Lewis
Jason Day finally bridged the gap to major championship victory on Sunday night as he held Jordan Spieth at bay to complete a three-stroke PGA Championship win at Whistling Straits.
American Spieth was himself bidding for a third major of the year after his successes at the Masters and US Open but his solo second place finish was enough for him to overtake Ireland’s Rory McIlroy at the top of the official golf world rankings.
It was Day’s moment, though, as the shadows lengthened by the shores of Lake Michigan, his tap-in par giving him a closing 67, five under par for the round and 20 under for the tournament, the best score to par in major history.
The victory represented the end of a series of near misses in the majors for the 27-year-old, who this year finished tied ninth at the US Open having collapsed during the second round following a bout of vertigo and then missed out on a play-off by one shot at The Open to tie for fourth at St Andrews.
Day had started the final round in Wisconsin with a two-shot lead and in the final pairing alongside Spieth, who had the chance to match Ben Hogan in 1953 and Tiger Woods in 2000 as the only men to win three majors in a calendar year.
Yet the 22-year-old from Dallas could not reach the heights he hit on Saturday when he blitzed the back nine in six under par on the way to a 65.
At one point, Day’s nearest rivals became South Africa’s Branden Grace and England’s Justin Rose, the former finding himself just two adrift of the Australian on the front nine and two in front of Spieth.
Grace, though, saw his chances fade with a double bogey at the 10th, while Rose’s hopes of adding to his 2013 US Open title fell away with a double at the par-four 14th and he drifted from three behind Day to five back at 14 under.
Grace finished in third place at 15 under after a 69 with Rose’s 70 good enough to secure solo fourth while American Brooks Koepka’s 66 got him to 13 under and a tie for fifth with Anirban Lahiri, whose closing 68 helped him to the best finish by an Indian golfer in the majors, eclipsing Jeev Milkha Singh’s tie for ninth at Oakland Hills in the 2008 PGA.
But ultimately, once Grace and Rose had exited the scene it was the two-horse race most had expected and the final pairing were left to their private contest.
By then, however, it was less duel and more a case of cat and mouse with Day trying to maintain his three-stroke cushion down the stretch. He did more than that at the 11th, his birdie opening up a four-shot advantage and whenever Spieth inched closer, the Australian checked his move.
Day went to the final tee in full command with that three-stroke lead intact and when he rolled his long birdie putt on 18 to within inches of the hole, the tears of relief and joy began to flow. Spieth could only par, leaving his rival to tap in and savour his success.
“It’s been a long journey, I didn’t expect to ever grow up and be on the PGA Tour,” Day said.
“It’s an amazing feeling, this has been a dream since I’ve been 12 years old – to stand up in front of a crowd like this and hold the PGA (Championship title) is really special.
“I didn’t expect to cry. A lot of emotion came out. I’ve been so close so many times. To play the way I did … I could tell that (Spieth) was the favourite, and to play the way I did and to finish the way I did was special.”
As for Spieth, there were mixed feelings. In finishing 17 under par he had completed the four majors in a record combined 54 under par, one better than Woods in his own landmark season of 2000. He also led the birdie count for the 2015 majors with 91 and best of all he replaces McIlroy as world number one.
“It’s by far the best consolation, by far the best loss I think I’ve ever had,” Spieth said. “I played solid golf. I played 11-under on the weekend off of the tough draw the first two days and still had a chance to really win. Although the key holes were 8 through 12 for me today where I really needed to make a statement and couldn’t get it to go, I still provided some opportunities to maybe put pressure on at the end and he just shut the door.
“A lot of positives come out of today. To be number one in the world as a team is fantastic. Certainly it was a lifelong goal of mine, and that was accomplished today.”
McIlroy, the man Spieth replaced, finished alone in 17th on nine under having closed with a three-under 69 and in anticipating the loss of his number one status was gracious in handing the mantle over to his rival.
“Honestly the way Jordan has been playing and the way I haven’t played much this year, I think that was only my 12th or 13th event, I feel like I’m playing well, but if he does go to number one today, it’s very deservedly so,” McIlroy said. “Winning two majors, winning a couple other times this year, had a chance at the Open, has a chance obviously today. And if he was to get to number one today, I’d be the first one to congratulate him because I know the golf you have to play to get to that spot, and it has been impressive this year.”
This week, though, belonged to Jason Day.