Jason Day steps out on to TPC Sawgrass this week with a chance to become the first ever back-to-back winner of The Players Championship.
After a wire-to-wire victory in The Players in 2016, the first to achieve that feat since Hal Sutton in 2000, Day said he was looking forward to the opportunity to defend his title.
“It's obviously pretty special to come back as defending champion,” Day said, who is coming off the back of a missed cut in the Zurich Classic teams event with Rickie Fowler.
“The course is in tremendous condition right now. It was back then, and it is probably even better today. So, with the upcoming weather that we have, how firm and fast the greens are going to get it should be a tough championship.
“We’re going to have a great week of weather, and it's going to be tough competition to try and beat these guys, so looking forward to defending.”
The Players Championship was Day’s last professional win, he said the title of World Number 1 was a challenge mentally for the Queenslander who, despite all his success and achievements, says he is in the midst of a re-building phase of his career.
“It’s been awhile. I'm trying to think. I mean, I came close at the PGA last year. I could sense that being World Number 1 and all that stuff was getting pretty hard mentally more so than physically, just the mental demand that have you on you, the expectations, and it's very, very easy to get burnt out in a sense.
“I was in the gym on Sunday with Jamie Lovemark, and I was explaining to him that I'm kind of in a rebuilding stage and he kind of laughed at it because it's really funny to be in my position to be able to talk about rebuilding, and it's not in a sense of rebuilding to get my game back to where it is, it's more so I think you're rebuilding to try and get back to the top of the world.
“That's what I'm trying to focus on is getting back to that winning form, getting back to the workload that I was doing and the practice and the work ethic, and hopefully the results will come after that.”
Day is under no illusion that he faces a massive challenge to become to the first Players Champion to successfully defend his title, on the notoriously difficult TPC Sawgrass layout, he identified the back-9 as being crucial to his chances of getting back in the winners circle.
“There's a lot of history behind this golf course with regards to the champions that have played here. I think it's very, very difficult golf course,” Day added.
“I think what won me the tournament last year was I played the back-9 probably better than most, probably best out of everyone in the field last year, and I think that's what holds the key to winning around this golf course is playing the back-9 best.”
The closest a defending champion has come in The Players is T5 in the tournaments rich history which includes players the caliber of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus.
“That just goes to show you how hard it is to come back and play this golf course, because it does test every aspect of your game, not only the physical part but the mental part, as well, and if you don't come into a golf course like this sharp in both areas, then it will really unfold out there.”
Day’s hot start in The Players last year set the tone for his wire-to-wire victory is something he’d like to replicate again this week, but also said if push came to shove, he’s happy to rally for a come from behind victory.
“The thing is when you get off to a good start, you don't have to take unnecessary risks on the weekend. More so than when you're behind you kind of have to kind of push a little bit. If you're out in front, you can just kind of play the conservative route, take your birdies when you can, just don't make any mistakes.
“And vice versa, when you're behind, you kind of have to press a little bit. It just depends on what you like. When I was a kid I used to love coming from behind and beating these guys. And now I would take either.
“All I'm saying is that winning is what needs to happen, and regardless if you win great or win ugly, it doesn't matter, it's a win. That's the biggest thing for me is it doesn't matter if I'm leading or if I'm coming from behind, I just need to win.”
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