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Jason Day embraces U.S. Open stress, moves into contention

Jason Day of Australia lines up a putt

Jason Day of Australia lines up a putt on the ninth green during the continuation of the second round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on June 18, 2016 in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Credit: Getty Images / Ross Kinnaird

OAKMONT, PENNSYLVANIA—He had asked for an extra helping of stress and he sure came to the right place. The U.S. Open, under angry clouds, with a mixed-up matrix of a schedule and regular races against dusk all were just what Jason Day had wanted. To top it all off, he put more pressure on himself with a horrible start to the tournament.

All of that left him right where he wanted to be, at the corner of Nerves and Indigestion in the heart of Angst City. That was like a month of Sundays for the golfer who had said before the Open began, “I mean, this is one tournament that is very stressful and I feel like I thrive under stress.”

The idea is that, if his stomach is churning, so is everyone else’s. Given that scenario, he will take his chances.

Sunday, he has the chance to endure stress and inflict it. Day has the opportunity to show the rest of the field how a major champion and world No. 1 golfer handles a major championship Sunday. He got a head start on that Saturday, moving from 45th to a tie for eighth place in the delayed and abbreviated third round. In fact, he has shown it all weekend, having gone from being in danger of missing the cut to being in position to win the toughest championship in golf.

At 1 over, he still is six strokes behind the leader, Shane Lowry, but Johnny Miller was six shots back before he won here at Oakmont in 1973.

It has been a weird week, what with the Open never having gotten back on schedule after a storm-delayed first round. It seems ripe for something dramatic or unusual to happen at the end. Day has at least put himself on the fringe of possibility. For what it’s worth, none of the players ahead of him has ever won a major. For our money, that is worth a lot.

“It’s good to have a major under my belt, but I’m just trying to win the tournament,” Day said. “That’s all I want to do. I think I’ve given myself an opportunity of getting there.”

That did not seem possible after his first round on Friday, when he shot 6-over-par 76. “My mind set on the first day — I just felt cloudy. I felt like I wasn’t sure of the clubs I was hitting,” he said.

Mettle made an appearance after that, though, and shone brightest Saturday afternoon as Day, starting on the easier back nine, birdied four of his first five holes. He did not maintain that pace — nobody did — but he did shoot 66, the second-best score of this Open. The reigning PGA champion is in much better shape than the other two members of the Big Three: Jordan Spieth never has found the right gear and is 4 over. Rory McIlroy is on his way home, having missed the cut.

Day has an edge over most of the players ahead of him because he finished his third round before play was suspended by darkness. So he can sleep in this morning. The others have to be on the course at 7 a.m. to complete their third rounds. And it is common knowledge on the golf circuit that sleep comes uneasily anyway on Saturday night at a major.

“That really does help a lot, especially in the temperature we’re playing in,” he said, noting that he was up before 5 Saturday to finish his second round. “They’re going to be getting up at 5 to play the rest of their holes. It’s going to be warm tomorrow. So it may make it physically and mentally tougher on those guys.”

If they can handle that, as well as the pressure, more power to them. The U.S. Open is all about coping and persevering. Day can be proud that he has done a decent job of that so far. And he looks forward to the cauldron on Sunday.

“I think it will be fun for everyone, even though it is hard,” he said, “and stressful.”

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