Jason Day adds intrigue to final round of Masters

Jason Day, of Australia, waves after putting on the 18th hole while Bernhard Langer, of Germany, lines up his putt. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As the sun tucked behind the trees on another cloudless day at Augusta National Golf Club – and another day where Jordan Spieth went to sleep with the lead, the seventh-straight Masters round this has happened – Jason Day had a slight limp as he escaped into the locker room.

The Australian has battled a myriad of injuries in his young career, but perhaps he was holding his back because the weight of his own expectations were becoming too much.

At last year’s PGA Championship, Day finally broke through and won a major, by three over the aforementioned Spieth. It was part of a magical run for Day, kicked off by a rousing victory at the RBC Canadian Open in July, where he ended up No. 1 in the world.

It’s a position he sits in now, and one he’ll remain at if he finishes in the top five, no matter if Spieth slips into another green jacket Sunday or not.

As the pre-tournament favourite, both on the betting line and as perceived by his fellow players (“I thought Jason was the favourite?” Spieth said Tuesday), Day was on track to prove both Las Vegas and his competitors he was indeed the man to beat.

He got off to a blistering start, shooting a 5-under-par 31 on the first nine. But on his second nine, he shot 5-over 41, limping home with a bogey, a triple, and another bogey. He was even par after Day 1.

“I’ve just got to slowly try to inch my way back into this tournament if I can, and be patient with myself, and hopefully I’m there by Sunday,” he said then. “But it’s a major championship. Things happen.”

He says he didn’t let his round get to him Thursday night. He didn’t reflect on his tough finish, and instead played soccer with his young son, Dash.

After a Friday 73 and today’s 71 – the third-best round of the day – he has gotten himself back in the mix. He sits tied for fifth, and although he is three shots back of Spieth’s lead, the weather forecast is calling for less wind tomorrow, meaning low scores could be had.

But it’s still Sunday at a major championship, and that makes tomorrow as unpredictable a day as they come.

“The last three days have been really tough,” says Day, who finished tied for second in his Masters debut in 2011. “It’s always hard to have the lead in a major championship with these conditions, so I just kept saying to myself – ‘just keep grinding it out, just keep trying to get your birdies when you can and minimize mistakes.”

Day will be paired Sunday with Dustin Johnson — hubby to Paulina Gretzky — who is still searching for his first major championship.

There’s no doubting Johnson’s talent, but his mental fortitude remains a question mark. He’s as well known for the major meltdowns and off-the-course antics as he is his eight PGA Tour victories and more than $25 million earned.

But Johnson has the right attitude heading into tomorrow’s final round.

“I’m right there,” he explains. “As tough as it is out there, I felt like I played really well. I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing.”

While Johnson searches for his breakthrough major, Day is looking for his second. But to do it, he’ll have to go through the man who has owned Augusta National the last two years.

“I need to kind of show a little bit more patience tomorrow,” says Day. “Even though I’m going to have scoring opportunities, I don’t want to make mistakes. Make birdies when I can, keep pushing forward.”

Even though Spieth is leading the Masters, again, Day (and Johnson and a collection of others) has a good chance to eclipse the boy wonder.

Spieth finished his third round with a shaky double-bogey and opened the door a crack to those giving chase. His lead is only one going into the final round. And as the saying goes, the Masters doesn’t really begin until the second nine on Sunday.

“Sunday at Augusta is a different story,” says Day. “It’s always fun to play Sunday in contention.”

And, it’s going to be fun to watch.

Chip Shots: Augusta National member Jeff Knox played as a marker with Bubba Watson in the first group of the day and they went around in three-and-a-half hours… Zach Johnson called a two-shot penalty on himself late Friday, causing him to miss the cut… 58-year-old (and two-time Masters champion) Bernhard Langer finished -1 and is currently T3… Amateur Bryson DeChambeau has an 11-shot lead on fellow amateur Romain Langasque and will likely capture Low Amateur honours tomorrow… 22-year-old Smylie Kaufman had the best round of the day, a 3-under 69. He’ll be in the final pairing with Jordan Spieth tomorrow… Rory McIlroy stumbled to a Saturday 77, and is now +2 for the week… Yours truly won a spot in the media lottery to play Augusta National on Monday…

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