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Jason Day, the defending champion, finds the positive in playing in Tiger Woods' shadow this week

January 23, 2019
Sentry Tournament of Champions - Round Two

Sam Greenwood

LA JOLLA, Calif. — We frequently hear about the difficulty of shadows in golf, putting through them, for instance, but what about playing in them, notably one as imposing as that cast by Tiger Woods?

Jason Day, 31, is the defending champion of the Farmers Insurance Open that begins Thursday at Torrey Pines. He’s ranked 12th in the world, ahead of Woods. Yet with Tiger Mania resurfacing in full flower, Day, like the other 155 players in the field, will be overshadowed.

Yet Day will tee off without complaint.

“Tiger's back playing, so there's other things that are kind of deflecting a lot of the attention away from myself about defending,” Day said. “That takes probably a lot of pressure off my shoulders to know the fact that I can kind of walk around and do my work and get my work in and get out of here and not have to really stress about it too much.”

Still, it’s odd that a player, still only 31, who has 12 PGA Tour victories, including a major championship, and likely in the midst of constructing a Hall of Fame-worthy resume, would be overshadowed and playing in virtual obscurity.

So it goes with the Tiger effect.

Day, meanwhile, is just as curious as everyone else to see what Woods is capable of in 2019.

“It's cool to see him back,” Day said. “It's just interesting to see how he'll go this year because obviously last year you're just trying to build and build and build, and then obviously to see what he thinks going forward and what his mentality is going forward.

“Is he going to come back out and start saying that he's competing and playing and I'm going to win every week? Because that's kind of the old Tiger that I knew. He would come into an event and say that he's here to win. Obviously over the last few years we got a little bit different Tiger just because he was coming back from an injury. Now he's a year in and it will be interesting to see where his mentality is in regards to winning tournaments.”

Tiger will take the focus away from Day, so whatever stress the Australian endures will be self-imposed as he strives to regain the top spot in the World Ranking, a position he held for 47 weeks, including most of 2016.

He’ll need longer strides that he produced last year. He was ranked 14th when he arrived at Torrey Pines a year ago, won the tournament as well as the Wells Fargo Championship a few months later, and yet is still outside the top 10.

“It was good but it wasn't great,” he said, while grading his year a B. “Winning twice was obviously very nice. I didn't really compete in the major championships. The way I finished the FedEx Cup championships, I didn't finish well there. I finished 17th or 18th.

“Even though I had won twice, I didn't really compete where I really wanted to and that was in the big stuff. Hopefully I’ll just kind of work at it and just let things unfold and be patient with myself, prepare a little bit differently going to the major championships. And then hopefully from there I’ll be able to have better success in those and obviously the FedEx Cup.”