NORTON — It’s thumbs up for Jason Day after two rounds of the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Day, who has battled a troublesome left thumb injury on the PGA Tour this season, ended his day on Saturday at TPC Boston with a share of the 36-hole lead, tied with Ryan Palmer at 8 under par. Even a disappointing bogey on the par-5 18th in which he forfeited the outright lead couldn’t damper Day’s mood after he shot a 3-under-par 68 in windy and dry conditions.
When you’ve had a season where even gripping a golf club has been difficult at times, you tend to let a bogey finish roll off your back a bit.
Day is one of the more recognizable golfers on the PGA Tour. He has verve, character, and personality. It was fun listening to him shoot good-natured barbs at reporters in his post-round press conference like well-placed approach shots. In a tournament that is lacking star power at the top of the leaderboard — Rory McIlroy is tied for 17th, five shots back, and Phil Mickelson is nine shots back of the lead — Day is an entertaining leading man.
It is surprising that the 26-year-old Aussie has just two career tour victories, including the Accenture Match Play Championship in February. He always seems to be hovering around the leaderboard at majors like a bee around a cluster of goldenrods. Day has six top-10 finishes in the majors since 2011. He is one of those guys that routinely gets picked in your for-entertainment-purposes-only major pools.
But Day tore a ligament in his thumb in February while winning the Match Play. He took six weeks off before playing in the Masters. He immobilized the thumb for two weeks after the finishing in a tie for 20th at Augusta. He then spent a month and a half sidelined to let his thumb heal.
After altering his grip a few weeks ago, Day’s only problem with the thumb now is when reporters ask him about it.
“It’s fine. I’m not worrying about it at all,” said Day. “We modified the grip just to try and weaken it off. I’ve lost some distance. But you’ve got to take it on the chin because I’m not complaining about the thumb.
“Injuries take time to heal, and it is what it is. But I feel good about it. I haven’t felt my thumb twinge or hurt over the last week or so. So obviously that’s a positive. And I really haven’t thought about it, other than you guys keep asking me the bloody question.”
Day seized the lead with a blistering 5-under-par 31 on the front nine that included back-to-back birdies on holes 6 and 7. That put him at 10 under par for the tournament.
Day began the back nine as the only player in the 93-player field who had not carded a bogey.
On the par-4 12th, Day’s streak ended thanks to the nexus of Mother Nature and course design. But even his first bogey was a display of deft golf.
He hit his tee shot into the primary rough. His second shot from 187 yards caught the wind like a kite. It sailed beyond the green and the golf cart path, forcing him to take a drop and surrender a stroke. Standing beside a rock with the cart path in front of him, Day ran the ball from a thicket of grass back on to the green. He then sank a 10-foot-11-inch bogey putt to prevent a mishap from becoming a full-blown disaster.
“It was good,” said Day of his waltzing away from disaster on 12. “I hit a 5-iron. We were trying to hit 185 yards just to get on the front edge. I got a flier out of the rough and it went straight over the green. Hit a good shot. That’s exactly where I wanted to go. But caught a flier, and it went straight over the back of the green.
“With how hard the conditions are, I didn’t expect anything else but to be in the hazard. To be able to get it on the green somehow, to judge it through the rough was — it was a tough shot.”
At the par-4 14th, which has played as the toughest hole of the tournament, Day’s second shot found the sand. He blasted it out to the back edge of the green. He two-putted from 20 feet to drop into a tie for the lead with first-round leader Palmer
But Day drained a 7-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 16th to retake the outright lead.
“I made a mess of two holes [12 and 18] and made a bogey somewhere else,” said Day. “But tee to green on the front nine was just as good as I’ve had this past couple of weeks. I’ve been rolling the ball pretty well on the greens and it showed. I holed out a lot of feet on the front nine, and I didn’t do any of that on the back nine.”
Contention is not new to Day in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Day finished second at The Barclays last week in Paramus, N.J. He was tied with Jim Furyk for the 54-hold lead at The Barclays. He shot a final-round 68 and held the outright lead headed to the back nine. But he finished two shots back of winner Hunter Mahan.
Day has come close at the TPC Boston before. He finished in a three-way tie for second at the Deutsche Bank in 2010 and in a three-way tie for third in 2011.
He held the 36-hole lead at the 2010 Deutsche Bank as well, one of four times in his career he has held a share of the lead after two rounds. None of those leads has resulted in a win though.
But with a healed thumb, a new grip and a steady game, it might be a new day for Day.