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Jason Day sprays his driver, but putter keeps him in contention at The Barclays

Jason Day of Australia hits his tee shot

Jason Day of Australia hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the third round of The Barclays in the PGA Tour FedExCup Play-Offs on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on August 27, 2016 in Farmingdale, New York. Credit: Getty Images / David Cannon

Almost everyone has heard Mark Twain’s old saying about this game: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Except at Bethpage Black, the walk is not so easy, either. The course is long and it is hilly, much more than it looks on TV. And it is a really tough slog if you are not going on a straight line from Point A to Point B, as Jason Day and his weary feet rediscovered Saturday.

As much as he needed to work on his driving, which gave him the greatest problems Saturday as he shot a rocky 1-under-par 70, there was no way he was going to the range. “I’m tired. I think I walked like 10-plus miles just from where I was hitting it — off the map,” said the world’s No. 1-ranked player, who was in the third from last twosome with Adam Hadwin in the next-to-last day of The Barclays.

“Some holes, I didn’t even see Adam. I just met him up at the green and said ‘How ya doing?’ It was just a struggle today,” said Day, the defending champion of The Barclays, having won it on the much flatter Plainfield Country Club.

To Day’s credit, he did the best he could to hang in there despite his wayward tee shots. He still is 5-under for the tournament, only four strokes behind Rickie Fowler, the leader “The putter did save me a lot of strokes. I could have been in the 80s today if I didn’t have anything going,” Day said. It helped that he made birdies on both par-3s on the back nine, when he could leave his driver safely in his bag.

On the longer holes, he would stand on the tee and hope it would land safely somewhere in somewhat short grass. “Today I just had no clue where it was going. I was missing both left and right,” he said. “I was standing over it, going, ‘Just get it down there somewhere,’ instead of committing to a target, committing to a shot and hitting it.

“When you’re driving it on a string like I was the end of last year and the middle part of this year as well, all you’re thinking about is getting up there and hitting as hard as you can and hitting at a target,” he said. “The biggest unknown is, is it going to right, is it going to go left? You have that in the back of your head, ‘I’ve been missing it all day, all day.’ ”

PGA Tour pros can get away with spraying tee shots at many of the courses they play. They hit it so long, if they are right or left, it is no big deal because they usually have only a wedge into the green. Not here, though. The Black has length and rough that is tough.

Those attributes help make it the challenge that it is, even for the world’s best pros as well as the recreational golfers who regularly play it. Martin Laird, having shot 69 to finish tied for fourth at 6-under, said, “I love this place. This is one of my favorite courses we play all year.”

Justin Thomas, who shot 66 and is tied with Day, said, “It’s crazy. It’s so hard. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how it’s that enjoyable for your standard golfer. I don’t mean that as disrespect to the golf course. It’s a championship course, it really is. It has had U.S. Opens. Some holes are just silly difficult.”

Plus the walk is a crusher (like the pros, public golfers must walk it). Day is no softie. He is as fit as anyone on tour, but a couple times this week he has mentioned fatigue.

So no practice for him Saturday evening. Time to get some rest, prepare for Sunday and hope his shots land in captivity. “If I can find the golf course,” he said, “I might have a good chance of winning the tournament.”

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