May 07, 2018: Jason Day led by three shots just four holes earlier, but now his advantage was gone.
Back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14 dropped him into a tie with 21-year-old rookie Aaron Wise.
Day had talked throughout the week about the confidence he’d regained after his difficult 2017 season, but now he was in danger of losing a comfortable lead on the back nine.
Day turned the Green Mile red, playing the course’s trying closing holes in 2 under par, to finish two shots ahead of Wise and Nick Watney, who collected his best PGA TOUR finish in three years. A final-round 69 gave Day his second win of the season and moved him to No. 2 in the FedExCup standings.
“I felt like I went 10 rounds out there, just fighting against myself,” Day said. “Aaron played tremendous golf coming in. I didn’t have the best day off the tee and even into the greens, but I had a really good day on the greens and around the greens.”
Day led the field in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green and was second in Strokes Gained: Putting. He ranked 50th in Strokes Gained: Approach this week and lost strokes off the tee Sunday.
Day, who began the day with a two-stroke lead, made his first birdie at the second hole. He made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 5 and 6, but responded with birdies at three of the next four holes.
After failing to get up-and-down on the par-3 13th, he pulled his tee shot into the lake left of the short 14th. The situation got more precarious when he missed an 11-foot birdie putt on the week’s easiest hole, the par-5 15th. That hole represents Quail Hollow’s last realistic birdie chance.
Unless you’re Day, apparently. After a 380-yard tee shot on the downhill 16th hole, he hit his 114-yard approach to 11 feet and made the birdie putt. It was one of nine birdies on that hole Sunday.
Then he arrived at the day’s most difficult hole and hit the shot that defined this tournament. Day’s 7-iron tee shot on the 223-yard, par-3 took a big hop when it landed in the middle of the green, and was still rolling speedily when it struck the center of the flagstick and stopped a couple feet away.
“It was on a cracking line, it was beautiful,” Day said. “Things like that are what you need to win golf tournaments.”
A par at the last gave the 30-year-old his 12th PGA TOUR victory.
Aaron Wise used his short game to keep pressure on Jason Day on the back nine. His par saves on the final two holes resulted in the best finish of his career.
Wise jumped from 105th to 51st in the FedExCup with his first top-10 of the season. He was alone in second place until Nick Watney, playing alongside Day in the final group, holed a 59-foot birdie putt on the last green.
Wise got up-and-down from the downslope of a greenside bunker to birdie the 14th and saved par after missing right of the 17th and 18th greens. He holed par putts of 7 and 8 feet on the final two holes.
“Casey (Martin, his coach at Oregon) told me that if you ever want to play the TOUR, you have to have a good short game,” Wise said. “Ever since then I’ve really worked on it.”
Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual while at Oregon and helped the Ducks claim the team title. He turned pro that year and won his second start on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada to finish fourth on the Order of Merit and graduate to the Web.com Tour. He won there last year to earn his PGA TOUR card.
WOODS IS SHUT OUT
Tiger Woods shot a final-round 74 after failing to make a birdie. It was just his 11th birdie-less round on the PGA TOUR as a professional. He finished T55 at 2-over 286 (71-73-68-74).
“I didn’t putt well again,” said Woods, who lost 5.7 strokes on the greens. He finished in the top 15 in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Approach-the-Green.
Woods said all week that he was befuddled by greens that were firm but slow.
Woods, who won THE PLAYERS in both 2001 and 2013, now moves on to his first start at TPC Sawgrass since 2015.
“I know the golf course, which is nice, and I know what to expect there,” Woods said. “I’m very pleased with the way I’m swinging. It’s just a matter of making sure I get the right speed for those greens because it’s going to be a little bit quicker than it was here.”
PGA TOUR Release