Jason Day could go into the Masters as world No.1 after surging back to winning form with a wire-to-wire victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Watched by host Palmer and mentored by friend by Tiger Woods, Day showed his mettle in the clutch to rally over the last two holes and win by one shot from American Kevin Chappell.
While his weekend work didn’t match the brilliance of his first two rounds, Day’s battling 70 at Bay Hill on Sunday gave him a 17-under 271 total and his eighth US PGA Tour victory.
The win couldn’t have been more timely – just two and half weeks out from the Masters, where he Day will seek a second consecutive major crown to go with his 2015 US PGA Championship.
Australia’s Masters stocks have skyrocketed, with Day’s win following successive victories by countryman Adam Scott at the Honda Classic and WGC-Cadillac Championship the previous two weeks.
Day climbs from world No.3 to No.2 and will now go into this week’s WGC-Match Play Championship – an event he won in 2014 – ranked just fractions behind No.1 Jordan Spieth.
Trailing by a shot late on Sunday, Day made a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th then got up-and-down from a greenside bunker at the final hole, sinking a four-foot par putt.
“It means the world,” Day said of winning Palmer’s tournament. “I just ground it out. I got it done when I wasn’t quite on.
While it was Day’s fifth win in his last 12 starts, it was his first in 2016 and he was pleased to show fans his long off-season break hadn’t left lasting rust.
“I just kept on saying `just be patient, I’m just going through the process and I’m going to keep working hard. The process finally paid off this week’.”
Finding a way to win when not at his best was a hallmark of former world No.1 Woods in his pomp.
The pair traded texts all week, given Woods’ previous dominance at the course where he has won eight times.
Woods advised Day on the eve of the final round to ‘just be yourself and stay in your world’ and told the Australian ‘you can do this and start your own legacy here.’
“It gives me so much confidence that a person like that would believe in me,” Day said.
“Especially as I was idolising him ever since I was a kid and watching him in ’97 win the Masters for the first time and all of a sudden I’m playing the tour and I’m pretty close with him now.”
Scott was the next best-placed Australian, in a five-way tie for 12th after a 69 which included four birdies on the back nine.
He could have finished much higher, if not for a double-bogey on the final hole where he almost found the water at the back of the green.
Marc Leishman (69) finished eight-under, in a three-way tie for 17th.