CHARLOTTE — The closing three holes at Quail Hollow Club, labeled the Green Mile, were tamed by Jason Day on Sunday.
With what he called “demons,” which were negative thoughts going through his mind following him on the back nine in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship, Day stood up to one of the toughest tests that can end a PGA Tour event to claim the title at 12 under, two strokes ahead of playing partner Nicky Watney and Aaron Wise at 10 under for the championship.
“I said earlier I was fighting demons out there because when you’re not hitting it good, it just feels like the life is getting sucked out of you,” he said. “The confidence is starting to dwindle, but you know that you’ve just got to keep pushing. I know that I have a lot of fight in me. When I really want to put my mind to it, I know that I can fight and keep pushing regardless of how bad things are going.”
After seeing his three-stroke lead vanish behind wayward tee shots and a string of bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14, Day closed out with a performance fitting of a player that he is wanting to be — the No. 1 golfer in the world. For the tournament, Day went 3 under in the 12 holes played on the Green Mile, including a birdie on 16 and a near-ace turned birdie on the 17th Sunday.
“Playing the Green Mile 3 under was big. I mean that 17th hole is not easy. It looks really tiny from 220 yards away. But 16’s difficult, but you have to have a good drive there,” Day said. “Being able to finish off strong, and that’s what I’m probably the most happy about is when you’re on call to do something good and you pull it off, that is key. To be clutch like that, and it’s a lot of heart.”
A quick glance to the scoreboard on No. 15 let Day know where he stood. A lead that he saw on one of his many glances at the leaderboard at three strokes while on the 12th hole was gone and he shared the lead with Aaron Wise. Bringing the field closer to him came after he pulled both tee shots left on the two holes prior.
On the par-3 13th, Day was left with a pitch shot from the left side of the green that he hit a few feet in front of where he stood to lead to a bogey. His ball found the water off the 14th tee leading to back-to-back bogeys for the second time in his final round, after dropping shots on Nos. 5 and 6.
“I learned a lot about myself, but I learned more about how much I actually wanted to get back to No. 1 and how much this meant was a good kick in the right direction,” he said. “But the adversity and the determination of trying to get that win was huge today.”
The win bumps Day to second in the FedEx Cup rankings and is his second win of the season, with the first coming at the Farmer’s Insurance Open. He now has 12 career wins on Tour, third most by an Australian born player behind Greg Norman and Adam Scott.
In claiming his highest finish on the Tour in his young career, Wise handled the emotions of playing in one of the last groups on Sunday well to close with a 3-under 68 that came with four birdies to answer a bogey on the second hole.
“There were times when I looked at the leaderboard and saw I was close,” Wise said. “I’ve done a lot of work on the mental side and really was able to clam myself down.
“In a way, it did a little bit surprise me I was able to do it that well.”
A birdie on No. 14 brought the 21-year-old within one shot of Day at the moment and then was enough to share the lead. Contending with the quality of talent in the field is something that Wise will carry with him.
“I’m going to gain so much confidence not only from being in contention, but being there at a place like this where you knew you were going to get a great champion,” Wise said. “When the pressure was on, I kept my head about me and pulled off some incredible shots.”
Masters’ champion Patrick Reed shot 2 under on Sunday to move into a top 10 finish, his sixth consecutive top 10 finish on Tour. Phil Mickelson shot 2 under in the final round to move in a tie for fifth.
Day and the rest of the World’s top golfers return to TPC Sawgrass this week for The Players Championship, and event he won in 2016.
Jason Day reacts after playing partner Nick Watney’s birdie putt on 18 at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club Sunday. Day topped the field after shooting 12 under for the tournament with four rounds in the 60s.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.