When Jason Day professed to being mentally fatigued coming off his tie for 10th in the Masters Tournament last week, it appears he was serious.
Day, who had won two of his previous three tournaments on the PGA Tour and six tournaments since last July, entered the third round of the 48th RBC Heritage about where everyone expected him to be, in a three-way tie for first at 6-under 136.
But the world’s top-ranked player plummeted out of contention with an 8-over 79 Saturday at Harbour Town Golf Links, shooting the fourth-worst score in his PGA Tour career.
“It’s obviously not the way I wanted to play,” Day said. “I knew something was up when my ball on the third hole hit a tree and bounced 80 yards right into the hazard. And then from there I just got a couple of bad breaks, and then kind of the head wasn’t quite there after that. And it’s really tough to fight that. It happens.
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“Obviously I can’t do anything about it now, I’ve just got to improve on it tomorrow and see how it goes.”
The Australian made eight bogeys and a double bogey, including six bogeys on the back nine for a 6-over 41, and dropped into a tie for 40th at 2-over 215.
“Unfortunately I just kept missing it in the wrong spots and not getting up and down,” Day said. “My chipping and putting was nonexistent today and that’s why I shot 79.”
Day began the third round tied for the lead with Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman, and was paired with Chappell in the final twosome. Chappell, seeking his first PGA Tour win, was even par for his round and just a shot out of the lead through 14 holes before making double bogeys on holes 15 and 18.
“I really wanted to stay out of Kevin’s way. I know that he really wants to win a tournament,” Day said. “He’s had two second-place finishes already this year. And my bad play, I just felt like it may have affected him and I just wanted to make sure I got out of the way. I’m just trying to get the score as best I can, and unfortunately it was a 79.”
Day had extra incentive to play the Heritage this week. For one, his caddie/coach Colin Swatton is a resident of nearby Bluffton, so it’s a home game for him. In addition, Day is endorsed by tournament title sponsor RBC.
Charley Hoffman is a three-time PGA Tour winner who has 11 top-three finishes in his 11 years on tour. He is coming off one of his best seasons in 2014-15, when he had a win, pair of runner-up finishes and a third, but he has yet to record a top 10 this season.
It’s not that he hasn’t been in position.
Hoffman has struggled to finish promising starts in 2016. His best finish this year is a tie for 11th five weeks ago in the Valspar Championship, where he was tied for third through 54 holes but shot a 75 in the final round. He had a share of the 36-hole lead two weeks ago in the Shell Houston Open but shot weekend rounds of 74 and 76 to tie for 33rd.
“I’ve obviously been in this situation before,” Hoffman said. “I’ve been out here 11 years and unfortunately the last month or so I haven’t been able to close the deal. I haven’t played very well on the weekends, Saturday or Sunday.
“Hopefully the more times you knock on the door, hopefully it opens up pretty soon. I feel good about the game, feel good where I’m at. It’s just something I’m going to have to overcome.”
Hoffman kept himself in position Saturday for a win. He began the third round tied for the lead at 6 under and shot an even-par 71 to enter the final round tied for second and just a shot behind leader Luke Donald.
He has played well at Harbour Town in the past, recording ties for sixth and eighth in 2012 and ’13 among his six previous starts. But he has struggled to finish in the Heritage as well. In 2013 he held the outright 54-hole lead and shot a 77 in the final round.
“I’ve been getting in my own way. Hopefully I can reach down deep. I know I’ve done it before and hopefully can do it again,” Hoffman said. “… Hopefully I’ve got a chance coming down the stretch tomorrow to show you what I’ve got.”
▪ Luke Donald did not play in the Masters last week. Since the RBC Heritage moved to its slot after the Masters in 1983 – with the exception of 2011 – just six players have won the event without playing in the Masters the week before: Carl Pettersson (2012), Brian Gay (2009), Boo Weekley (2007), Aaron Baddeley (2006), Bob Tway (1995) and Davis Love III (1987).
▪ The last three winners of the Heritage have come from four shots back entering the final round to win. The five players four back this week are Kevin Na, Bill Haas, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar and Russell Knox. Kuchar came from four back to win in 2014.
▪ Patton Kizzire, the 2015 Web.com Tour Player of the Year, is alone in fourth and just two shots out of the lead. He already has a runner-up finish in the second tournament of the year in Las Vegas and is on pace for his third top-10 this season.