Five years after he fronted up to Augusta in the worst crisis of confidence he’d known as a professional, Jason Day returns to the Masters as world No.1 – a position from which only victory will satisfy.
In 2011, Day, already on the PGA Tour for four years, arrived in the midst of a maelstrom of self-doubt, despite being ranked 41st in the world.
But it was there that Day turned his career around, finishing joint second (with countryman Adam Scott) behind South African Charl Schwartzel.
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Since then, Day has won his first major – beating Jordan Spieth at Whistling Straits to lift the PGA Championship in 2015 – and in September he reached the coveted world No.1 ranking.
He lost it quickly, but regained the top spot last month following back-to-back wins at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC Match Play.
Day covets a Masters win above all else, and said he would die a happy man if he was able to win at Augusta – where he once said he’d like to scatter his late father Alvin’s ashes.
“If I won here and die the next day, I’d be a very happy man.”
But despite heading to the hallowed greens at Augusta as the world’s best, Day insisted he’s under no pressure leading into the event.
“For the most part I’m trying to embrace walking through the gates as No.1 and what the experience and feeling of that is,” he said.
“It’s weird because there are so many guys in the top 10 playing such great golf right now that there is no one favourite to win. For me, that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.
“If I was coming into this event and no one else was playing that great and I was a heavy favourite I would be walking around with a little pressure on my shoulders.”
And Day cautioned against expecting ultra-low scores at this year’s tournament.
“The greens are tremendously quick and if they speed them up a little more it’s going to be a very difficult golf course.
“I don’t think they like seeing 18-under winning around here because these are the quickest greens I’ve seen at the start of tournament week.”
‘I want to win a handful of majors’
Meanwhile, Australia’s other great hope, Adam Scott, said he doesn’t want to be a one-major wonder.
Scott’s famous triumph in the 2014 tournament was the first time an Australian had won the iconic green jacket.
Scott will use a short putter at The Masters for the first time since 2010, after enjoying his sole major win with an anchored ‘broomstick’ putter.
And the 35-year-old is hopeful he can land a second major with the conventional stick.
“I don’t want it to be the one [and only] major I won.
“It’s hard for me to think that anything I achieve will be bigger than that moment in my career, but that doesn’t mean I’m not striving to win other Masters tournaments.
“I feel I’ve got the game to win my second major this week and I’m driven towards that because I want to win a handful of majors.”
Other Aussies in action
While Day and Scott will command most of the Australian attention, there are three others in action at Augusta National.
The story of world No.31 Marc Leishman is heartwarming, with the Victorian returning to the tournament he withdrew from last year after serious concerns about his wife Audrey’s health.
Audrey was in a coma suffering from toxic shock syndrome and acute respiratory distress syndrome, and given just a five per cent chance of survival.
But survive she did – and Audrey even caddied for Leishman in Wednesday’s par-three contest.
Steven Bowditch (world No.87) and talented young gun Cameron Smith (world No.102) are also in the field.