By Kevin Currie – Golf Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – Jason Day has been teetering on the edge of greatness for a few years now. He took another step in the direction on Sunday.
Day’s win at the Farmers Insurance Open was a big step forward for a player who can’t seem to stay healthy. It also closed the book on a very tough week for the golf world.
The tour left Phoenix for San Diego, where two of the biggest names in the game – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – had made names for themselves.
Woods has dominated Torrey Pines with eight professional wins there, seven Farmers Insurance Open victories and a U.S. Open Championship title. Mickelson won three Farmers titles himself and has lived in the area for a number of years.
But both were coming off missed cuts in Phoenix. It was the second time in their careers that they both missed the cut at the same event. Their weeks in San Diego were not much better.
Fog rolled in and out and back in again on Thursday. That threw players’ preparations off. Woods had started to warm up for his round, then stopped when the fog came back in.
Once his opening round began, Woods started to struggle with a stiff back early in his round. He battled as long as he could, but called it quits on his 12th green – No. 3 – because the pain was too great.
Mickelson’s week wasn’t much better. He went 74-72 and missed the cut for the second straight week for the first time since 2002.
Fans at the two events and television viewers alike suffered with two of the biggest names, if not the two biggest names in the sport, failing to make it through four rounds for two straight weeks.
As if seeing two of golf’s current greats suffer weren’t enough, the sport as a whole took a pair of big blows with the passing of two legends.
Charlie Sifford, who broke the color barrier on the PGA Tour, died late Tuesday. He also broke the color barrier in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Woods himself admitted that if it weren’t what Sifford had done, he may have never picked up a golf club.
Then on Saturday, Billy Casper died. Casper was also huge in the San Diego area. He won the tournament in 1966, was a three-time runner-up and, like Mickelson, lived in the area for a long time. Casper, also a World Golf Hall of Fame member, collected 51 PGA Tour victories.
Casper was overshadowed during his career by the big three of the era – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
“I think it is fair to say that Billy was probably underrated by those who didn’t play against him. Those who did compete against him knew how special he was,” Nicklaus said. “I have said many times that during my career, when I looked up at a leaderboard, I wasn’t just looking to see where a Palmer or a Player or a (Lee) Trevino was. I was also checking to see where Billy Casper was.”
Some thought it should have been a Big Four, including Casper, instead of the Big Three.
While the pall was cast over the final round, the action on the course Sunday was reminiscent of the battles Woods and Mickelson, and Sifford and Casper, would thrive in.
After numerous players moved in and out of the lead during the round, four players kept fighting after 72 holes. Day was joined in a playoff by J.B. Holmes, Harris English and the event’s reigning champion, Scott Stallings. That group had 10 combined PGA Tour titles.
English and Stallings made par on the first extra hole, but it wasn’t enough as Day and Holmes made birdie. Day’s par on the second playoff hole was enough for PGA Tour victory No. 3.
The cliff notes version doesn’t begin to describe the cliffhanger Day went through on his final hole of regulation. He intentionally knocked his second shot over the green at the 18th.
Day had planned to chip across the green, hoping for the left fringe, but thick rough grabbed his wedge and his chip went left and headed for the pond short of the green.
His first thought was where he needed to drop his ball after it rolled into the water. As luck would have it, his ball barely stayed dry. Day managed to get up and down for par from there to get into the playoff.
Earlier in his career, many thought Day would challenge Woods for the top spot in the world rankings.
The battle will now be against Rory McIlroy as Woods has tumbled down the rankings. Day, who has seven top-10 finishes in majors over the last five years, is certainly up for the challenge.
Day just has to stay healthy. Woods and Mickelson know that feeling all too well these days.
* There was plenty of extra golf this week as the PGA, LPGA and Web.com tours all had playoffs. All three also had weather delays that threatened to force Monday finishes, but all three ended by sundown Sunday.
* The Pebble Beach Pro-Am is this week and the field includes many of the regulars. Sports figures like Matt Cain, Herman Edwards, Buster Posey and Wayne Gretzky (wonder who he is playing with?) will be on hand as will Bill Murray, Ray Romano and Don Cheadle.