AUSTIN, Texas — Jason Day’s been around the block.
Several blocks, in fact.
At 35 years old, the mature native Australian admittedly didn’t always know what was coming next and doesn’t truly know now.
But he’s come to grips with it some uncertainty, is braced for it and, in fact, is welcoming it.
He calls it “an interesting journey.”
Rewarding, too. And not just because of $53 million in golf paydays.
It’s been a journey that’s taken him to the highest of highs with both a PGA Championship and the Players Championship along with 10 other victories on the PGA Tour and included a few lows like an extended time off with severe back pain and a long drought between wins that has grown to five years since the Wells Fargo Open in 2018.
He’s a former No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. And he was as low as 175th in the ranking last October before climbing back to 37th.
He’s won this match-play event twice before, in 2014 and again in 2016 when it first came to Austin as its reincarnation as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and he’s in position to do so again after advancing from group play Friday by routing two-time major winner Colin Morikawa by a 4 and 3 margin.
Yet, he had gone 0-for-his-last-4 tries when he’s failed to advance out of the round-robin stage since his title.
He’s had 15 finishes in the top 10 in major championships, including four of them in the Masters, in his career, but he hasn’t captured a second major since that PGA title in 2015.
That said, the highs greatly outnumber the lows, and his compelling journey may yet return him to golf’s mountaintop. He’s placed in the top 10 in four of his last five events, including a fifth at the WM Phoenix Open, as well as a tie for 19th at the Players.
“When I got to No. 1 in the world back in ’15, I enjoyed the journey getting there,” Day said, “but when I got there, I didn’t know how I got there, which is interesting to say because I had a team of people around me that would just take care of everything. So they just kept the horse running, and I was just like, okay, I’m going to run in a straight line.”
This time around, he said he’s taken a different approach and he’s happy with that decision.
He’s spent a lifetime around golf — maybe two lifetimes — and likes where he’s been and where he’s headed.
“At least I’ll kind of have essentially an understanding of how things are,” he said, “and where they’re going and where I want to be.”
He wants to be back in the winner’s circle. But he’s also adjusting to a swing change with coach Chris Como, and that’s taken a while. He’s found himself uncomfortable over the ball too often, but has played long enough to know it’s about getting it in the hole more than showing off for style points.
But his health is good, his life balance is even better.
He feels awkward saying he’s not really in a groove, his 3-0 record notwithstanding. “I can’t fully let go,” he said.
He’s had only three bogeys in three rounds, one on Friday that was more than offset by six birdies. He’s completed his matches before ever setting foot at the 17th or 18th tee boxes.
For now, he’s back in the knockout stage of the Dell event where he will engage with match play wizard Matt Kuchar, who tied Tiger Woods with his 36th career victory in Match Play events by crushing Si Woo Kim 7 and 6.
“The guy is very straight down the middle, on the green” Day said of Kuchar. “When he gets hot with a putter, then he’s very difficult to beat. So I kind of have to stay in my own little world tomorrow and just not pay too much attention to him.”
Much of the attention all week has been focused on current stars like defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who took care of 17 seed Tom Kim to advance with a 3-0 record, and unbeaten No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who will stick around for weekend play and who still has the Austin Country Club patrons buzzing over his drive on 18 on Thursday that almost cleared the clubhouse.
Max Homa, who’s been on fire on the Tour, took the easiest route to the weekend. His opponent, former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, withdrew from the competition with a neck sprain while Homa was still on the driving range before their tee time.
Jordan Spieth wasn’t so fortunate because his opponent, Shane Lowry, was a competitive pain in the neck.
Spieth (1-2) never got into any rhythm this week, and his chances of winning his adopted hometown event for the first time evaporated quickly on a Friday that offered heavy mid-morning showers before clearing up with warming sunshine by afternoon. He got off to a disastrous start and trailed 5 down after eight holes.
He did make one of his patented charges with four birdies in his last six holes but his eagle try on 16 came up six inches short, and Lowry won 2 and 1 even though both failed to advance out of group play.
In all, of the 15 golfers who entered Friday’s pod play with 2-0 records, 10 of them, including defending Valero Open champion J.J. Spaun as the 61st seed, moved on into Saturday’s Round of 16.
Day was one of them as well as the 32nd seed, and no one should sleep on the personable but competitive guy, who has his own set of followers at ACC.
He’s won this event twice, including the first time the Dell Match Play came to Austin Country Club in 2016, and he’s very much in the thick of it again in the tournament’s final installment this year.
Day’s a little reluctant to call him one of the elder statesmen of the game. But he does concede that time has marched on.
“I’m definitely older than a lot of the guys now,” Day said. “Obviously, Tom Kim is our youngest guy. This is, I think, my 16th season or something like that. But I must say I’m playing against an older guy tomorrow, so that’s going to be fun.”
That older guy got the better of him in that 2013 semifinals when he blasted Day 4 and 3. Kuchar, who will carry an impressive 36-11-5 match play record into Saturday morning’s Round of 16, went on to beat Hunter Mahan in that final a decade ago for his only WGC title.
But Kuchar has competed well at ACC, bowing out against Scheffler in the 2021 Dell semis and losing to Kevin Kisner in the 2019 championship match.
“He’s a tough guy to beat,” Day said.
The journey continues.