LAHAINA, HAWAII – It has been a long time – more than three months – since Jason Day walked away from the Tour Championship and into an extended offseason with his back aching again.
Day, you may recall, withdrew from the last two FedEx Cup playoff events in 2016 because of a recurrence of the back issues that have disrupted his career in recent years.
It was nothing that some time off and plenty of rehab work couldn’t fix and now Day, who has been the No. 1 player in the world since his victory in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship last March, is ready to go again.
“Three months was a long time to have off, especially from golf,” said Day, who will play Thursday’s opening round of the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation Course with Patrick Reed.
It has been nearly eight months since Day’s last victory – at the Players Championship – capped a spectacular spring that also included a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in addition to the Match Play win in Austin, Tex.
He finished second in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol but the disc issue submarined the end of Day’s season. He has maintained his grip on No. 1 but there is a sense that others – Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, in particular – could take him down early this year if Day starts slowly.
Among Day’s 2017 goals is keeping his No. 1 ranking, which he’s had for 40 consecutive weeks, and making it last through the calendar year.
“You’ve got to shoot for something bigger,” Day said. “When you reach a goal, you have got to reevaluate things and try and shoot for something a lot tougher because if your goal is to stay No. 1, that’s great. You’ve got to go, ‘OK, how many weeks can I stay there or I’m going to try and beat it next time. Like I won five times in one year, can I win six times?’ Just slowly keep pushing myself from there.”
Another Aussie, Greg Norman, was No. 1 for 331 weeks and Tiger Woods owned more than a decade, holding No. 1 for 683 weeks.
“It’s a little bit out of the ways,” Day said, smiling.
Day said his back condition has improved enough that he anticipates his exercise regimen will allow him to play issue-free this season. Having escaped the cold and snow at home in Columbus, Ohio, for the warm glow of Maui, Day is enthusiastic to begin again.
“Seven months (since winning) it really is a long time,” Day said. “I’m just trying to get stuck back in the process, trying to get better. I feel better about my body, feel better about my game, feel better about my swing.
“I feel better mentally than I did the second half of last year so I’m hoping for every good things this year.”