Tour Confidential: Jason Day Wins PGA Championship For First Major

August 17, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Jason Day won his first major championship after shooting a Sunday 67 to hold off Jordan Spieth in the final round. Day’s talent is off the charts, his stats are impeccable and now he has shed the best player without a major moniker after coming close so many times. Can you put a bow on Day’s breakthrough week? 

Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, Golf Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): Isn’t the bow the same for every major championship winner: the chance to have your wife and child (or children) greet you with a victory embrace on the 18th green? How sweet was that for Jason Day? It’s always great to see the nice guys do well, and Jason is about as nice as it gets. I was so impressed by his composure. You could see that he was channeling a lot of his energy into calming himself before every shot by taking a deep breath and making sure to stay in his routine. It was not an easy day to shoot a 67, but he went out and won this thing. It was fun to watch.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, SI Golf Group (@JeffRitter): Day had achieved everything you can in golf except for this final hurdle, and now it’s done. It was a great week and a complete victory. We know Day is a great driver, but on Sunday, with his first final-round lead, he turned in his best putting performance of the week. Awesome stuff.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): Day is a hard worker, but he’s also quite smart. He realized early in the third round that he was starting to fall into his usual miss, a hook, and went out to the range after the round to figure it out. He realized he was setting up closed and fixed it, and was so good on Sunday that as he and Spieth signed their scorecards afterward, Spieth said simply, “There was nothing I could have done.”

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): With rare exceptions, that’s the way it happens. A guy raps on the gates a few times, only to have them slammed in his face. But then one day the golf gods let him in. Day did a lot more rapping than some others before the doors swung back. But it’s pretty much the same path Spieth and McIlroy followed. It just happened for Day a few years later. 

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@EamonLynch): He went out there head to head with a player who is Mr. Momentum and he shut him down. Day’s performance was clinical. Perhaps it shows the value of being in the crucible often enough. He’s now played 20 majors and has finished top 10 in half of them, with a win, three seconds, a third and a fourth. He saves his best for the big stage, and this was a rock star performance.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): I love seeing rewards come to a player who’s paid his dues. Jason Day has been a major part of the Majors stories so many times. He didn’t choke any away. He just got outplayed or just didn’t play quite well enough. He now also has some big-time PGA Tour titles to back up his successes in Majors. This guy is the real deal, and no one was more deserving of this win.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Most impressive is the way that Day closed the deal, with best player in the game breathing down his neck. We knew that Jordan Spieth wasn’t going away, and Day had an answer every time Spieth appeared on the verge of making a run.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Day just posted the lowest score in major history and he had to go that low in order to nip Spieth. This could be the start of something big. Even if it isn’t, it was something big to witness. Whistling Straits isn’t really this easy.

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): Jason Day is only 27, practically a teenager in golf years. With the way he’s played since turning pro in 2006, especially in the majors, it feels like Day has been on Tour much longer. He’s hardly ever mentioned in the same breath with other “young guns” like Jordan or Rickie, and with “best player without a major” demons finally out of the way, expect his trophy case to start filling up—fast.

2. Jordan Spieth completed a major season of 1-1-4-2 after failing to catch Day in the final round. He’s also now the World’s No. 1 player, leap-frogging Rory McIlroy. Now that his major season is complete, can you put Spieth’s year into perspective? What can he do for an encore?

VAN SICKLE: I don’t know how you could expect Spieth to top this year. He’s one good drive away from being in the British Open playoff (he hit poor drives at 17 and 18 that cost him) and he was one late-early draw from maybe winning the PGA. Remember, he caught an afternoon time Thursday at Whistling Straits when the wind was whistling and probably playing three to four shots harder. That’s the luck of the draw. I don’t think he can top contending in all four majors to the 72nd hole but I can’t wait to watch him try.

LYNCH: What is most impressive about Spieth’s season is how unimpressed he seems by it all—his comportment is no different after one of history’s best seasons than it was beforehand. What I’ll remember most is the British Open. The R&A sent him out in a storm on Saturday morning to play one hole, which he bogeyed. He missed a playoff to keep the Slam alive by that one stroke. Plus a fan’s camera went off at an inopportune time on the final hole. What did Spieth do? Nothing. He kept his counsel, congratulated the winner, thanked the fans and moved on without bellyaching on social media about how wronged he was. There’s so much to be said for the manner of his successes this year, but let’s not forget the professionalism with which he handled what must have been a brutally disappointing failure.

RITTER: Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan won three majors in a calendar year, and those are the two best seasons in golf history. I think Spieth’s results rate as the third-best season ever. The Masters can’t get here fast enough.

MORFIT: I am a total believer in Spieth, and I have been since I followed him around in the final round of the British. The guy is hitting it exactly where he’s looking, he has more self-belief than anyone in the game, and he absolutely burns to win, much like Tiger used to. Spieth is here to stay. Get used to him.

SENS: It’s the most dominant season since the Tiger Slam. And more impressive in the sense that he’s younger than Tiger was then. And the talent pool is even deeper now, what with the Tiger generation having come of age. As an encore, he could clean sweep his Presidents Cup matches and win “So You Think You Can Dance?” 

PASSOV: How do you match or surpass one of the greatest golf seasons in modern history? All I’d like to see is consistency in the next 12 to 24 months. We’ve exalted too many Stensons and Kaymers and Horschels who play great for 3 to 6 months, then fade. Let’s see if Spieth can stay hungry and be a dominant player week after week, like Jack and Tiger in their primes. Outside of his stunning results in the majors, two moments stick out to me: Keeping his  RBC Heritage commitment and bouncing back with that second-round 62 after his draining Masters win, and keeping his John Deere commitment–and winning the thing. Awesome class, astonishing results.

MOHLER: It’s tough to say this, but Spieth has nowhere to go next year but down. And that’s no slight, it’s just reality. The kid outplayed every expectation and, unfortunately for him, the bar for 2016 has been set way too high. Spieth just completed one of the best seasons in the history of the game; to expect something better next year is unfair.

GODICH: It has to rank as one of the best years in the history of the game. You could say that Spieth was in contention at all 16 rounds at the majors, and in fact, he got to the top of the leaderboard in all four majors, albeit briefly in the second round at the PGA. We may never see that again.

MARKSBURY: There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe Jordan’s season. He has single-handedly restored my faith in American golf in the post-Tiger era. I just hope he doesn’t burn out. With all his success comes a heightened demand for his time and energy. There may be a time-management learning curve for him going forward. As for an encore, though, I fully expect him to win the FedEx Cup, and then go 5-0-0 in his Presidents Cup matches, leading the U.S. to another victory. 


3. Rory McIlroy showed competitive rust coming off a month layoff following an ankle injury and finished in 17th place, breaking par for all four rounds but finishing 67th in strokes gained putting. Is this week a success for McIlroy given his circumstances? How would you rate this year for the 26-year-old in his prime?

VAN SICKLE: It was a good week for Rory, the best he could hope for. He didn’t reinjure the ankle but realistically, the short game is the first thing to go and the last thing to come back. He just didn’t have the scoring shots he needed to compete because he was rusty. And if he needed any offseason motivation for 2016, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth have certainly provided it. Rory is looking at two very serious rivals now.

PASSOV: Kudos for a solid PGA for Rory. After 60 days away, I expected a rusty short game–and he delivered. But very respectful otherwise. Lost year for Rory and majors, but so what. He was an easy Number 1 in the world–or Number 2–and if he stays healthy, he’s got all the talent and experience to win plenty more majors before he’s through.

MORFIT: This was a lost year for Rory, who goes O-for-2015 in the majors. When it’s all said and done, and people sit around and talk about your career at your Hall of Fame induction ceremony, no one is going to wax rhapsodic over the WGC-Cadillac Match Play or the Wells Fargo Championship. His soccer screw up to miss out on the British Open was the absolute low point; he absolutely kills it at St. Andrews. Sigh. There’s always next year. 

LYNCH: That he was able to play decently after an injury layoff is a success, but “decently” doesn’t win majors. I doubt McIlroy will see 2015 as anything to write home about, but being dethroned might be just the spark the king needs to motivate him for 2016.

RITTER: McIlroy played well after the two-month layoff, but his short game wasn’t quite sharp enough to make a charge. The year has to go down as a disappointment, as things never really clicked for him at Augusta or Chambers Bay. He’ll use the FedEx Cup and some international events to round back into form. How will he respond to losing his ranking? I bet he’s plenty motivated. I’ll say it again: the Masters can’t get here fast enough.

SENS: Given the standards he has set for himself, any major-less season falls below the bar. But it was hardly a poor campaign. And not nearly as bad as it was for him on the soccer pitch.

GODICH: A year ago, Rory was No. 1 in the world and all the talk was about whether he could complete the career grand slam at the Masters. My, how the narrative has changed. His bounce-back after a long layoff was impressive, but he better get to work. Mr. Spieth won’t give up the top spot without a fight.

MARKSBURY: Rory performed better than I thought he would. I never expected him to contend, given the competition he would be facing and the rust that had no doubt accumulated during his two months off. But I think his play this week showed everyone that the ankle isn’t a problem, so he should be back in familiar Rory-form by the time he returns during the playoffs. Rory, Jason and Jordan in the hunt and firing on all cylinders will be great theater. Bring it on!

MOHLER: McIlroy is far from one of the best putters on Tour, so the strokes gained number isn’t concerning. Rory’s year will be shadowed by his ankle injury, but it was actually fairly strong. Top-10s at the Masters and U.S. Open, a victory at the WGC-Match Play and a T17 at the PGA after a long layoff are all good signs for the guy who played only 10 events in the States in 2015. McIlroy will be fueled in 2016 by having lost the No. 1 ranking; expect a big year from him.

4. Tiger Woods missed a third-straight cut in a major for the first time in his career, and it might be the last time we see him this season depending on if he plays the Wyndham next week. Have you given up hope in Tiger after this dismal summer or do you think he can rebound? What’s your prediction for the rest of 2015?

LYNCH: Tiger’s year is over and lost, regardless of how often he plays. He cares about four events. They’re all over and his performances were miserable. Those who believe Tiger has another run in him will turn to Augusta next spring. Everyone else can relive the glory days on YouTube, and perhaps spare a moment to celebrate the era we’ve moved into, which is awash with thrilling young talent.

MARKSBURY: Tiger seems to be in denial about the state of his game. He continually says things like, “I had complete control of the golf ball.” What? And to top it off, his putting is as bad as it’s ever been. Majors are won and lost on the greens, and if he can’t get his short game back into form, I just don’t see him ever winning another one, regardless of how much “control” he exerts on his ball striking. I do think he should play Wyndham, if only to show everyone that he does actually care about making the playoffs, but I don’t hold out much hope for success given what we’ve seen from him thus far this summer.

PASSOV: Tiger ranged from horrific to decent in 2015, but was AWOL when it mattered most on the biggest stages, the year’s final three majors. As a fan, I miss Tiger being in the mix, being the “old” Tiger. I’m finally admitting to myself he’ll never recapture it. Play more to get more reps, or shut it down and start fresh in 2016? I have no idea. I’m tired of thinking about it.

MORFIT: I’m predicting rest. Relaxation. A sponsor’s exemption into the Hero World Challenge. Some more work on his upper body. Maybe a scuba diving excursion. Fatherhood. When does ski season start?

VAN SICKLE: Tiger has plenty of down-time to regroup and reconsider his future. I don’t expect to see him play much. I think he’ll stay home and grind on his game–that is, if he really and truly wants to get competitive again. He has to look at Spieth and Day and Rory and realize he’s going to have to work his butt off to get back and compete against them. Does he want to? That’s his offseason challenge.

RITTER: I don’t except much from Woods for the rest of the year. He may pop up at the Wyndham or a Fall Series event or international stop or two, but now he just needs to continue the rebuild and attempt to move forward. His game is nowhere close to that of Day or Spieth or any of the other young stars. Woods has a long road ahead.

SENS: For awhile, watching Tiger’s swoon had the feeling of rubbernecking at a sensational roadway wreck. But we are past that now. It feels more like the dreary observance at a wake. I hope he springs back to life because it would be a great story. But I’m not expecting it anymore. 

MOHLER: Whether he plays the Wyndham or not, Woods’ season is over. He’ll likely play a few fall events, the and a few overseas money grabs, but what signs has he shown that he can rebound quickly?

GODICH: I’m tired of speculating about Tiger. Time to move on. When he shows that he has his swing and his game sorted out, then we’ll talk.


5. Whistling Straits hosted its third PGA Championship in the last 11 years and will be the host of the 2020 Ryder Cup. Is the venue worthy to host all these prime events? Where does it rank among public venues in the United States?

PASSOV: Whistling Straits is an awesome venue for majors. It’s long enough that it doesn’t need to be tricked up, it genuinely punishes players for poor drives and irons and it’s got wonderful scenic backdrops. The 18th still strikes me as a little goofy, but it easily makes my top 5 public-access tracks in the U.S. The only reason scores were so low was that the fairways and especially the greens played a little too soft. I’d rather see that though, than an on-the-edge setup where luck occasionally trumps skill.

VAN SICKLE: Whistling Straits is a beauty. Television had to love the lake-view backgrounds. They’re Pebble Beach-like. The course isn’t a real links, in fact it’s just another Pete Dye forced-carry modern target-golf track. But it looks great, it feels special when you’re playing it yourself and looking down on the beach from a bluff and it’s already built up some history. Beauty is only skin deep but that’s enough for modern televised tournament golf.

LYNCH: It’s a great venue for major events, but I’m lukewarm on it as a golf course. It looks like a links but plays like TPC Sawgrass, with penal hazards and a need to fly the ball to one’s target rather than use contours. It’s challenging, but it would be a stretch to say it’s fun. Which is common when the architect is Pete Dye.

RITTER: I was a little disoriented by the slopes in 2010, but last week I came full circle on the Straits. I love it. Fans can get a view from anywhere, and the course produces the perfect mix of birdies and big numbers to keep things exciting. The track’s only downside is that it’s a tough walk for fans, but this year the PGA had a few of the old danger spots roped off. They’re learning. The course will make a fantastic Ryder Cup venue, and I’d be fine with the PGA coming back here every four years.

SENS: There are challenges to the spectator experience but for the golf itself, it’s more than up to snuff. Little doubt in my mind that it’s one of the top-five public courses in the country.

MORFIT: I remembered it as a dunes-choked mess, but it’s growing on me, sort of. Whistling is similar to Chambers Bay in that they both have water views, dunes and fescue, but Whistling is the better spectating venue. (Although it’s still dangerous.) And the greens are way better. Would I pay to play it? No. I’d go to Northern Michigan. The other side of the lake is much prettier, and the golf is better. 

MARKSBURY: Given the great and exciting leaderboard we enjoyed for the last four days, I love Whistling Straits as a big-time venue. As far as where it ranks on the public-venue scale, I think the course is too tough to be very enjoyable by recreational-player standards. It’s also a very expensive tee time. But the views are phenomenal and dramatic, so that helps ease the sting.

MOHLER: The Ryder Cup is the perfect event for this course, until you consider the spectators. The finishing holes are awesome, and there are several throughout the course where anything from an eagle to a double bogey is in play. But part of what makes big events special is the spectator experience, and Whistling Straits lacks in that department. But for the viewers at home, it’s the perfect host for the 2020 Ryder Cup.

6. Dustin Johnson teased us with an opening-round 66 at the site of his 2010 rules infraction that cost him a shot at his first major, then carded a quad and two eagles in his Sunday round, eventually finishing T7 after a Sunday 69. Johnson’s talent is apparent, but at some point, do you write him off for ever being the last man standing at a major?

VAN SICKLE: Dustin Johnson has so much talent that sooner or later, he’s going to win a major by accident. That said, he’d better spend a lot of time working on his putting if he plans on finishing ahead of Spieth. I don’t write DJ off at all. He’s too young. 

MORFIT: Day spoke in his press conference of seeing “multiple” sports psychologists. I think that would be a good start for D.J., who now seems to be, consciously or unconsciously, playing his way out of contention early on the weekend so he can’t have another 72nd-hole crack up. He’s too big a talent to keep doing this. 

LYNCH: Of course not. The courses on which majors are played are only getting longer, so each passing year plays more into his strengths and eliminates so many others in the field as genuine contenders.

RITTER: D.J has proven he’s a threat at any major, anywhere. But he has to learn to get out of his own way. I think he’s too good not to win one eventually, but the scars are piling up. Next year is big for him.

SENS: Early 30s is way too early to write off a guy of Johnson’s ability. But there is a spectacular quality to his self destruction that makes you worry that he’ll become the American Sergio. 

GODICH: The quad gave me flashbacks to the second hole of the final round at the 2010 U.S. Open, where Johnson essentially threw away his chances with a sloppy triple. DJ has as much talent as anyone on Tour, but no one’s going to hand him a major. And the longer he goes without breaking through, the harder it’s going to get. Just ask Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.

PASSOV: DJ has way too much talent not to win at least one major at some point. Yes, he seems snakebit, but he does seem to chill better than most about these disappointments. It took Phil 10  years of solid Tour play and many wins before he finally broke through in 2004. I’m convinced DJ will get it done.

MARKSBURY: I still hold out lots of hope for Dustin. I don’t think he’s the type to dwell on scar tissue. This just wasn’t his week. He’s one of the most athletically gifted players on Tour, and way too talented—and young—to be written off at this point.

MOHLER: DJ is quickly turning into to one of the most unpredictable performers in golf. Sure, he owns opening rounds at majors and has typically faltered on the weekend. But if he doesn’t make a quad on No. 1 Sunday at Whistling Straits, he’s in the hunt. Jason Day recorded eight top 10s in majors since 2011 before finally breaking through; Johnson has seven in that span. I think DJ will be a major champion by this point in 2016.

7. In a week of Rory hype, DJ’s bunker, Spieth-Mania and Day’s breakthrough, what will this week be remembered for when we look back on it years from now?

VAN SICKLE: We will remember Jason Day’s superlative weekend performance and his historic 20-under achievement more than Spieth’s semi-near miss, Matt Jones hitting a shot off a hospitality tent carpet or a 63 by Hiroshi Iwata. Twenty under? Don’t count on seeing that again in your lifetime… unless the USGA continues to sleep on reining in the modern golf ball.

LYNCH: After 145 years of major championships, someone finally finished at 20-under-par. We’ll remember that as quaint occasion not too far down the road when the scoring barriers are falling faster than Tiger’s world ranking.

RITTER: Jason Day was a star in waiting. This PGA will go down as the week he finally arrived.

SENS: I think you’re giving our institutional memory more credit than it deserves to assume that this particular event is going to loom large in mind years from now. But since this was the breakthrough week for a guy who will likely win a handful of additional majors, I’ve got to give it to Day. The week the floodgates opened.

MOHLER: At the end of the tournament, Jason Day was all that mattered. This course fell perfectly into his hands. Had Spieth won at St. Andrews and lost to Day at Whistling, the lasting memory is different. But this week was all about JD.

PASSOV: The 2015 PGA will ultimately be remembered for two things: Jason Day’s brilliance and his emotional, well-deserved win.

GODICH: It was a good week for golf. Two of the top guns in the game put on a riveting show. Even better, I’ll remember the grace and raw emotion displayed by the worthy champ and the class shown by the beaten runner-up. 

MARKSBURY: I think we’ll remember this week as Jason Day’s breakout, because I expect him to have at least four more majors under his belt in the next 10 years. I also think we’ll remember it as the moment the Rory-Jordan rivalry truly kicked off. I can’t wait to watch them battle it out for the No. 1 ranking—and face each other in Ryder Cup singles matches—for years to come.

MORFIT: I’ll always remember the emotion that spilled out of Jason on the 18th green, and in the press conference afterward with the writers. It was just so evident how hard he’d worked for this, and what it meant to him–not just after all those near misses but also because he was so obviously headed down the wrong path as a kid, when he was getting drunk and getting into fights at age 12. It was impossible not to feel some of that joy and relief with him.  

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.