Jason Day of Australia held his nerve to end five years of close calls at the majors with an emotional breakthrough victory by three shots over Jordan Spieth of the US at the PGA Championship on Sunday.
World No. 5 Day, two shots ahead of Spieth overnight, never relinquished his lead as he closed with a five-under 67 on a blustery afternoon of hazy sunshine at Whistling Straits to post a major record low of 20-under 268.
The previous best at a major was the 19-under 269 by Tiger Woods when he triumphed by eight shots in the 2000 British Open at St Andrews in Scotland.
Day fended off the challenge of Spieth, who had been bidding for a rare third major victory in the same year, with four birdies in the first seven holes, followed by three more after the turn.
The 27-year-old Australian, who had previously recorded nine top-10 finishes in the majors — six of them in the top four — had to wipe tears from his eyes before he tapped in a one-foot putt for par on the 18th green.
Spieth, the US Masters and US Open champion, had to settle for second after closing with a 68 and securing the No. 1 ranking for the first time, at the expense of Rory McIlroy.
Day, who was embraced by his pregnant wife Ellie as he made his way off the green, became the fifth Australian to win the PGA Championship after Steve Elkington (1995), Wayne Grady (1990), David Graham (1979) and Jim Ferrier (1947).
“It is an amazing feeling,” a visibly emotional Day said after being presented with the coveted Wanamaker Trophy, which he hoisted high in celebration.
South Africa’s Branden Grace, who pulled within a shot of Day’s lead after making four birdies in five holes from the third, signed off with a 69 to place third at 15-under.
Day made a confident start to the final round, although he stumbled just before the turn with a bogey at the eighth after driving into a bunker.
He was in danger of dropping another shot at the ninth after chunking a wedge approach shot from the middle of the fairway.
He pitched his third shot to within nine feet of the pin and sank the clutch putt to salvage par and go to the back nine with a spring in his step and a two-shot lead.
Day picked up further shots at the 11th and 14th to move four strokes clear and could afford the luxury of a bogey on 15 before finishing birdie-par-par.
Spieth, who ended his remarkable campaign in the majors this year with two wins, a tie for fourth and a runner-up spot, was lavish in his praise for Day’s performance in the final round.
“He was sitting there swinging as hard as he could off the tee, and every single drive was right down the middle of the fairway,” the 22-year-old American said. “He played like a champion and he fully deserved this win.”
McIlroy, back in action this week to defend his PGA Championship crown after being sidelined with an ankle injury, shot 69 to finish 17th at nine-under.
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