Call it the runner-up slam.
For the second successive major, the 23-year-old Australian finished as runner-up. Day played Congressional Country Club Blue Course’s in 9 under on the weekend to finish at 8-under-par 276 for the championship.
Overshadowed by McIlroy’s record score in relation to par (16-under) is the fact that Day’s 8-under score would have won the U.S. Open 109 times in the championship’s 111-year history.
“Obviously it’s my first U.S. Open,” he said, “but I’m very excited that I finished second. I’m not going to go home and cry because I got whooped.”
Day turned professional in 2006 at age 18 after a highly successful junior career. His goal at the time was to win more titles, more majors than then-world No. 1 Tiger Woods. But he has not yet performed quite to that height.
After failing to earn his PGA Tour card for 2007, Day won his initial Nationwide Tour start, the Legend Financial Group Classic—becoming the PGA Tour’s youngest winner ever.
Day earned his tour card in 2008, but posted mediocre results until breaking through to win the HP Byron Nelson Championship last season. At the PGA Championship in August, Day tied for 10th. His career is now arching upward.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my shoes out here,” he said at HP Byron Nelson Championship. “It took me a while. It’s my fourth year on the PGA Tour and I’m starting to feel more comfortable out here with the guys, and as you play and succeed a little more and win tournaments and play obviously a lot more top-10s, you gain confidence and you know that you’re doing the right things.”
Now with the two runner-up finishes in 2011’s majors, Day has moved to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking and appears on track for big expectations. Day believes he, along with the 22-year-old McIlroy, is part of a new generation of global talent.
“If you go around to each country, each country has its own rising star coming up,” said Day, who has seven top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including a T6 at The Players Championship, often considered the world’s fifth major.
“Rory is leading it, and there’s a bunch of other great golfers out there. Obviously we need to work a little harder to get to the level of Rory, but we really are going to start a new generation, and it’s really fun. I think it’s great for golf.”
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.