UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - The sight of Jason Day struggling to make it to the end of the third round while fighting the effects of vertigo Saturday at Chambers Bay was reminiscent of Ken Venturi's battle to survive to the end of his victory at the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
At that time, the USGA still played 36 holes on the final day. Suffering from dehydration in temperatures that reached 108 degrees, Venturi was advised by a physician to quit after the morning third round, but he kept putting one foot in front of the other that afternoon in what some described as a "near-death experience" until he won the trophy.
Fortunately for Day, who was in the final group of a major for the first time in his life Sunday at Chambers Bay, he had only an 18-hole march over the humps and hillocks of a links-style course with exhausting elevation changes. His caddie, Colin Swatton, described Day's third-round 68 as a "superhuman effort," but the tough part figured to be repeating it.
Day was walking gingerly when he approached the first tee Sunday, trying to hold his head still, and he clearly found it difficult to turn to acknowledge cheers from a supportive gallery. The final round of a U.S. Open always tests a player's equilibrium, but that was especially true for Day, for whom the uneven terrain presented a challenge. Even the stair steps he had to go up and down on player bridges from one hole to another at various points were like a hazard for him.
After he opened with three pars, Day's round began to seesaw in a seven-hole stretch in which he made four bogeys and two birdies to fall back to 2 under through 10 holes. Unfortunately for Day, he drifted further out of contention at the par-4 13th, where he missed the green, hit a chip that came back down a slope to his feet and wound up with a double bogey that dropped him to even par for the tournament.
Day ultimately shot a 4-over 74 to finish tied for ninth, five strokes behind the winner, Jordan Spieth. "After No. 12, I felt much better," Day said of his condition. "I'm just glad I got it in on the weekend . . . I hit 13 greens and just didn't capitalize at all on the stuff I had. It's unfortunate, because I felt I gave myself enough opportunities."
Still, most would agree with Swatton, who urged Day on when he considered quitting in the third round by telling him he had "the heart of a lion."
"I said to him, 'They're going to make a movie about that round,' " Swatton said. "It was pretty impressive. It was up there with Tiger Woods playing with a broken leg [and winning the 2008] U.S. Open."
Woods had a stress fracture that obviously bothered him, but he didn't have medics on alert the way Day did after collapsing on his final hole of the second round.
Swatton explained, "The hardest part for him is the turning of the head every time and looking at the target. Bending over and marking the ball [was difficult]. We spoke about whether he wanted me to do that, and he gave me a look as if 'why did you even ask that?' He played golf . . . That was the greatest round I've ever watched."
The final round wasn't as good for Day, but he made a valiant attempt. As fellow Australian Adam Scott said, "It's a hell of an effort. When you're not feeling well at all playing in a U.S. Open, it isn't a lot of fun. He's a tough, tough kid. He's got a lot of heart, and he's proving it again today."