ORLANDO -- Jason Day was signing autographs after his pro-am round Wednesday at Bay Hill when a woman in the crowd caught his eye. She was wearing a T-shirt that featured a photo of Day, his wife and kids, and the tournament’s host and namesake, Arnold Palmer, behind the 18th green.
“I get to have that memory of actually standing with him, talking to him, and being his champion,” said Day, last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational winner. “That’s those memories that you don’t forget.”
This will be unlike any other Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s the first without The King after Palmer passed away last September at 87. As for Day’s season to this point, that is something he wouldn’t mind forgetting about. In short, it has been disjointed.
The 29-year-old Aussie began the year in Hawaii, where he was playing for the first time in more than three months following back issues that forced him to withdraw from the final two events of the 2015-’16 season.
He finished in the middle of the pack, and the following week at Torrey Pines, he missed the cut. Then came a tie for fifth at Pebble Beach, followed by a tie for 64th at Riviera, where he also lost his No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to winner Dustin Johnson.
Two weeks later, Day missed the WGC-Mexico Championship because of the flu and a double ear infection.
“It's been a funny year,” Day conceded. “One week it would be putting really decent and not hitting that great, then next week I would be hitting it pretty decent and not putting that great. So I really haven’t clipped it together.”
A year ago, he was in a similar position.
Day began 2016 with a tie for 10th in the winners-only event in Maui, missed the cut in San Diego, was 11th at Pebble Beach and tied for 23rd at Doral.
“You can’t live on how your previous tournament went,” Day said. “And a lot of people get caught up in that. It just doesn’t matter.”
It didn’t last year.
Day opened 66-65 at Bay Hill then hung on to win by one. The following week, he won again, at the WGC-Dell Match Play.
A repeat performance this year would keep an interesting trend going. Tiger Woods won the event in 2012 and 2013, and Matt Every went back-to-back the next two years.
Should Day win this week and next, he would also move back to No. 1 on the World Ranking. And with the Masters just three weeks away, building momentum wouldn’t be such a bad thing, either.
“This is obviously a very important stretch coming up, just to see you how the state of my game is, going into Augusta,” Day said. “I got to go out there and just kind of get in my own little world and forget about everything else. Forget about all the stuff in the past and what people are going to think if you don’t play well, because one week can really change and if I play poorly over the next two weeks and then win Augusta, the first part of the year’s forgotten and you’re the Masters champion.”