Our U.S. Open has its feel-good story.
Though the most improbable leader wasn’t feeling all that well.
Jason Day, who suffered his second consecutive day of vertigo, is co-leading the 115th U.S. Open.
Thanks to five birdies over his final, remarkable nine holes Saturday, the 27-year-old Australian is tied with Masters winner Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Branden Grace at 4-under par entering Sunday’s final round, which is shaping up to be as brilliant as the weather.
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The struggling Day finished a par on No. 8. Already nauseous, he was facing the scene of his collapse from the day before.
During the second round Friday, two shots from being done after teeing off high above the par-3 ninth, Day traversed a steep ridge to the green’s edge. Then he collapsed. Medics hurried to him. People packing the grandstand gasped, then went quiet.
Friday night the golfer’s agent, Bud Martin, said Franciscan Health Care personnel diagnosed the world’s 10th-ranked player with benign positional vertigo. People who suffer with the affliction feel temporary spinning and can have multiple episodes without any warning due to an inner-ear disturbance, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For round three, Day slowly bent to take balls out of cups. He held handrails on measured walks between holes. He was hurting at 2 over for the day through eight holes.
But as he made his way to No. 9 again, a USGA official pointed Day down the hill to the tee box below, not the second-round tee above.
“We’re down the hill?” Day said.
One could hear the relief in his voice.
Soon everyone could see it in his game.
Day went on to strike one of his better drives of the front nine to par hole No. 9. He birdied two of his first three holes on the back nine to return under par. He almost fell down after his tee shot flirted with Puget Sound’s boats along the par-3 17th — then he birdied that hole, too.
“America loves you, Jason!” one man yelled over the ropes.
With the roaring, sun-drenched crowd his, Day sent his tee shot on the par-5 18 far to the right. The ball pinballed off a hospitality suite’s deck, off a sliding-glass door — and back onto the fairway rough.
He plucked a save out of the brown weeds into the middle, just below the 18th green. One putt later he had his fifth birdie of the week’s most exciting back nine.
It really was Jason’s day.
The packed grandstand, largest in U.S. Open history (6,000 fans), let out another roar to certify what it had just witnessed was as remarkable as it was improbable. Day meekly waved his right hand.
“I felt pretty groggy on the front nine just from the drugs that I had in my system,” Day said just off the 18th hole before shuffling into a trailer. “The vertigo came back a little bit on the 13th tee box, and then (I) felt nauseous all day.
“I started shaking on 16 tee box and then just tried to get it in, really.”
He said this is worse than a bout of vertigo he had last year, causing him to skip a round.
“I think the goal was just to go through today and see how it goes,” he said.
Astoundingly, is how it went. If he hadn’t missed a 5-foot putt for par on the 11th, he would be sitting alone in first entering the final day.
Day tied for second at the U.S. Open in 2013. He has won three tournaments since joining the PGA Tour in 2008: the 2010 Byron Nelson Classic, last year’s Accenture Match Play Championship and this year’s Farmers Insurance Open.
Day has never had more attention than he had Saturday.
By 12:45 p.m. he was on the practice range driving balls with three Pierce County sheriff deputies with him. He moved slowly there, too.
By 1:50, amid cheers of “Go get ’em, JD!” he walked gingerly to shake hands at the first tee.
“Good luck, Jason. You look good,” the starter told Day.
He was fibbing.
At 1:55, Day started his improbable third round. A posse of 18 USGA staffers, media members plus two deputies followed him and Kevin Kisner.
“You are an inspiration, Jason!” one man bellowed along the 17th.