There’s something about Southern Nevada which seems to bring out the best in Jason Day.
A year ago, the Australian helped the PGA team beat the LPGA in a playoff to win the Wendy’s 3Tour Challenge at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson. A month before, he had torched the front nine of TPC Summerlin in the final round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with a 28 and was neck-and-neck with eventual winner Ryan Moore before a double-bogey on the 18th hole forced him to settle for fourth place.
Day missed this year’s Shriners Open, where Webb Simpson was the winner. But Day is back to defend the Wendy’s title today. He will team with Boo Weekley and Billy Horschel at Rio Secco, which is hosting the made-for-television event for the sixth consecutive year. They’ll face the Champions Tour trio of Bernhard Langer, Fred Funk and Kenny Perry and the LPGA trio of Natalie Gulbis, Cristie Kerr and Stacy Lewis. In the 21 years the charity event has been played, the PGA has won nine times.
“I feel very comfortable on the courses here,” said Day, who turns 26 today. “They’re always in great shape and I seem to play well whenever I’m here.”
In last year’s Wendy’s, Day found himself head-to-head against Lewis on the second playoff hole. His drive missed the fairway and landed on a cart path. Day was 95 yards from the pin when his second shot stopped 5 feet from the hole. He made the birdie putt while Lewis missed her 8-foot birdie try as Day, Nick Watney and Davis Love III split $500,000.
“It gave my confidence and helped my momentum,” he said of winning at Rio Secco. “We’re out here for a good cause but once you stick the tee into the ground, it gets pretty competitive. Everyone wants to win.”
And while Day didn’t win on the Tour in 2013, he played some of the best golf of his career. He tied for runner-up at the U.S. Open, finished third at the Masters, had seven top-10 finishes, made the cut in all 21 events he played and earned $3,625,030, good for 12th on the Tour’s money list and finished 14th in the final FedEx Cup standings.
“I did the little things right,” Day said. “I was on balance, on and off the course. Golf is such a mental game; the slightest thing can throw you off. But I worked my tail off and I was motivated to play well. It wasn’t really a goal, but making the cut in all the events was a nice accomplishment. The only thing missing was a win.”
He also had a great run at last month’s Presidents Cup, teaming with Graham DeLaet and going 3-1-1 and leading the International team with 3½ points against the American squad, which won, 18½-15½. The fact it was played in Muirfield Village, not far from Day’s home in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t hurt. He knows the course as well as anyone and though he was part of the visiting team, Day actually felt like the home team.
“Yeah, that part of it was nice,” he said. “Graham and I didn’t really know each other that well before the Presidents Cup but we hit it off right from the start. He’s a good bloke.”
Day said he needed a break after the Presidents Cup, which was why he didn’t play the Shriners Open last month. He hopes he can work it into his 2014-15 schedule, but that’s a long ways off. His focus is on today and repeating as Wendy’s 3Tour champion. In the event’s history, it has raised nearly $44 million for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Last year’s tourney raised $3,442,300.
“We’ve got a really talented team,” he said of Weekley and Horschel. “But the girls are going to be tough and the Champions are great players. But we’re playing for a great cause. Everyone deserves to have a loving family.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter @stevecarprj.