CHICAGO—Jason Day has been making golf look simple lately but, after claiming the world number one ranking he had long coveted, revealed that it had been anything but easy.
“It’s been very, very difficult for me to try and downplay getting to number one, because I’ve really wanted to reach this goal for a long time now,” the 27-year-old Australian said after another convincing win in the US PGA Tour’s BMW Championship catapulted him to the top.
Day led wire-to-wire—jump-starting his run with a spectacular first-round 61 and never looking back.
His 22-under total of 262 had echoes of his record-setting 20-under triumph at the PGA Championship last month, where Day at last broke through for his first major title.
His fifth win of the season has him poised atop the FedEx Cup playoff standings—in pole position to seize the $10 million playoff bonus at the season-ending Tour Championship.
But it is the number one ranking that resonates with Day, even though he is the third man in three weeks to claim it after Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy traded the top spot.
Day said it was a dream he had nursed since childhood, when he was inspired by the exploits of Tiger Woods.
But Day was chided as a presumptuous upstart when, as a young pro, he told a group of reporters on a conference call that he believed he could topple Woods from the summit.
Day admitted Sunday that he was unprepared for the criticism he received then.
“It wasn’t the response that I was expecting,” he said. “I mean, I expected to get a little bit, but not the response that I got from practically everyone.”
As his career progressed, and Day’s undeniable talent failed to yield a major title, the naysayers gained steam.
But all that changed in August, when he built on the momentum of another major near-miss at the British Open to win the Canadian Open, then make his major breakthrough at Whistling Straits.
Fueled by critics
Now with four wins in his last six events, he’s on top of the world—and can afford to be magnanimous when contemplating his earlier critics.
“I’d love to say, ‘I told you so,’ but that wouldn’t be very nice,” Day chuckled.
“I would still thank them, because that was kind of the fuel that lit the fire for me, especially with the dedication over these last few years.
“I know that a lot of people were thinking against me on that.”
Reaching number one hasn’t left Day devoid of goals. Even with five wins to Spieth’s four this season he knows the 22-year-old American’s two major titles and wealth of other strong finishes could still make him the pick for PGA Tour player of the year.
Day would like to strengthen his claim to that honor with one more win in the Tour Championship.
Looking further ahead, he wants to add more Grand Slams to his resume.
It doesn’t leave much time to contemplate the view from the top—which Day said so far doesn’t seem that different anyway.
“It just feels normal,” he said. “I feel like I did yesterday, the same. Once again, I’m just a regular guy like everyone else.
“Everyone has dreams. As long as you stick to them and work hard, you can accomplish anything.”