Haven, WiS. – Jason Day hit his drive on the fifth hole well to the right of the fairway, toward a maze of bunkers and high grass. Jordan Spieth hit his drive onto the fairway, giving him an advantage on the tricky par-5.
Spieth trailed Day by three shots in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, but Spieth was known for clutch play and clutch putts, and Day had never won a major championship. This felt like a moment when Spieth could close the gap.
Day played a deft recovery shot to the front of the green, pitched it close and made his birdie putt. Spieth made birdie but did not cut into Day's lead. As Spieth left the green, he turned to his caddie and said, "He's on today. We're gonna have to push."
Spieth pushed, but Day didn't waver, leaving Spieth in an unusual position.
At 22, Spieth on Sunday became the top-ranked player in the world rankings, passing Rory McIlroy. He finished second in a major, meaning in four majors this year he produced two victories, a fourth-place tie, and a second place.
He lost to a player who shot a majors-record 20 under for the tournament, a player who is universally liked and respected. Even the hyper-competitive Spieth had to admit that this wasn't the worst way to lose a major.
"Yeah, yeah, it's by far the best consolation, by far the best loss I think I've ever had," Spieth said.
Spieth shot a 68. He would have needed a 65 to tie Day.
"I played solid golf," Spieth said. "I played 11 under on the weekend off the tough draw the first two days and still had a chance to really win.''
Day never gave Spieth and opening, so Spieth responded with overt displays of sportsmanship. When Day hit a brilliant lag putt on 17, Spieth stuck his thumb up in congratulations. Day's caddie raved about Spieth after the round.
"Jordan's all class," Colin Swatton said.
Only Day prevented Spieth from winning another major, and together they established that modern golfers may be the most proficient in history, even while playing on a 7,500-yard course buffeted by wind.
Spieth shot 54 under par in the four majors, a record. He beat Tiger Woods' standard of 53 under, set in 2000. The next two on the list? Day, who was 35 under in majors this season, and Justin Rose, who was 34 under and finished fourth in the PGA.
That's right — the player who ranks fourth all-time in shots under par in one major season did not win a major in that season, thanks to Spieth, Day and British Open winner Zach Johnson.
"Sometimes there's not much you can do," Spieth said. "Typically in a major you're looking for somebody in Jason's position to miss a couple of shots and just feel the nerves on his own. And he went about it like a seasoned veteran. It was almost like it was his fifth or sixth major."
Spieth watched Day take his driver out on difficult holes, and hit it long and straight. "Each time he took it back, I had hope," Spieth said. "And each time after it came off the face of the club, the hope was lost."