Day Displays the Courage to Continue, and Contend

Jason Day continued to battle vertigo symptoms on Saturday, but that didn't stop him from shooting 68 and taking a share of the 54-hole lead at Chambers Bay. (USGA/Michael Cohen)
Jason Day continued to battle vertigo symptoms on Saturday, but that didn't stop him from shooting 68 and taking a share of the 54-hole lead at Chambers Bay. (USGA/Michael Cohen)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Jason Day was flat on his back Friday afternoon, overcome by vertigo-induced dizzy spells just minutes before completing his second round, and it appeared doubtful he could even continue in the 115th U.S. Open.

On Saturday, he was flat-out brilliant.

Battling lingering unsteadiness throughout the afternoon as well as fatigue caused by a battery of medications, Day put on a clinic of equal parts toughness and tenacity to grab a share of the 54-hole lead at Chambers Bay. Proving tougher than an iguana steak, Day managed to rally for a 2-under-par 68 while competing amid conditions that exacerbated his symptoms – a searing sun and the drastic elevation changes of this waterfront venue.

A 6-foot birdie putt, his fifth of the inward nine, lifted Day to 4-under 206, tied with Americans Jordan Spieth, the reigning Masters champion, and Dustin Johnson and South Africa’s Branden Grace. He'll begin Sunday's final round at 3 p.m. PDT in the final pairing with Johnson, both men in search of their first major title. 

“It was the greatest round of golf I have ever seen in my life,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie, swing coach and closest friend. “It was superhuman effort. He had bits and pieces throughout the round where he felt OK and then he didn’t feel great. He was just exhausted. But there were just a few times in the round when he was able to just suck it up and hit the shot he needed to hit.”

Day, 27, who as a kid growing up in Queensland enjoyed engaging in an occasional scuffle, seems to possess the visceral fortitude and fighting spirit to weather the traditionally trying U.S. Open examination. Twice he has finished runner-up, including his debut in 2011, and he tied for fourth last year at Pinehurst No. 2.

On Saturday he started weakly with bogeys on the second and fourth holes, and the climb up to the fourth green nearly did him in, Swatton said. The drugs he had taken prior to the round were making him groggy, but the feeling wore off around the turn, only to be replaced by more dizziness starting at the par-4 13th hole. By the 16th tee he had the shakes.

“I felt nauseous all day,” said Day, who somehow managed to birdie 15, 17 and 18 when it was obvious he was struggling to finish, even fumbling with the ball as he tried to replace it on the green for his final putt of the day. That he finished with a flourish conjured memories of Ken Venturi’s weary march to the 1964 U.S. Open title at Congressional Country Club while battling heat exhaustion.

“I just tried to get it in,” said Day, who carded one of six under-par rounds when the field averaged 73.133, and was bested only by Louis Oosthuizen’s 66.

“Man, he played great,” said Kevin Kisner, who was paired with Day and shot 73. “You could tell he was not feeling his best, but he really gutted it out.”

“He just kept putting one foot in front of the other. It was impressive,” Swatton said. “I said to him they might make a movie about that round. It was right up there with Tiger Woods playing with a broken leg at the [2008] U.S. Open.”

In truth, it was quite a bit more impressive than what Woods accomplished that year at Torrey Pines on the way to his third U.S. Open title.

A false move at the wrong time presented real danger for Day, whose wife Ellie is expecting their second child. Chambers Bay is a difficult walk because of the elevation changes and the distance between some greens and tees, distances that had to be covered over temporary staircases and bridges as well as hillocks.

To even complete the round, Day carried his head as still as possible while he walked, as if he were wearing an invisible halo brace. He moved gingerly, and he bent at the knees to retrieve his ball from the hole. He made sure to lift his yardage book or Kisner’s scorecard to eye level.

Still, there was no avoiding swiveling his head to look at his target while he stood over his ball. That was the most difficult task among many challenging interludes.

“It takes a second for his eyes to just sort of steady up a little bit,” Swatton said. “So bending over, marking the ball … we spoke [before the round] about whether he wanted me to do that and he gave me a look as if, ‘Why did you even ask me that for?’ He played golf.”

No, he played tough.