Austin, Texas — Everyone around him was telling Jason Day to withdraw from the Dell Match Play and not risk further injury to his back.
Day knew he was playing well enough to win and wanted to stick it out.
The decision paid off in more ways than he could imagine.
Day returned to No. 1 in the world by making it to Sunday. It felt even sweeter when he beat Rory McIlroy in an epic semifinal, and then beat Louis Oosthuizen in a championship match so one-sided that it might as well have been a victory lap around Austin Country Club.
“I’m glad I didn’t listen,” Day said. “I wanted to win. I wanted to win so bad that I felt with how I was playing, if I kept playing the way I was going, I would be holding the trophy at the end of the week. And that’s what kept me going.”
He’s taking that confidence to Augusta National next week to start preparations for the Masters, which starts April 7. Coming off a victory last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Day has won six times in his last 13 starts dating to the PGA Championship.
“It’s been a memorable week, not only to win the Dell Match Play but to get back to No. 1 in the world,” Day said.
Day pulled ahead with a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth hole, stretched his lead to 3 up at the turn and was relentless with his power and short game the rest of the way. He closed out Oosthuizen with a wedge to 3 feet for a conceded birdie on the 14th hole and a 5-and-4 victory. It was the largest margin for the championship match since it changed to 18 holes in 2011. Tiger Woods beat Stewart Cink, 8 and 7, in 2008 at Dove Mountain in a 36-hole match.
Oosthuizen, who knocked out Jordan Spieth in the fourth round to pave the way for Day’s return to No. 1, won the opening hole with a par in the championship match and that was it. His only birdie was an 8-foot putt on No. 5 after Day had stuffed his wedge from the rough into 2 feet.
“A top player these days, he always makes that crucial putt when he needs to,” Oosthuizen said. “We’ve seen a thousand times through Tiger doing it. Jordan does it all the time. And Jason, whenever he needs to make a crucial putt, he makes it. You see him this morning against Rory when he made that putt on 18.
“He’s always been a great iron player. He’s always been a great long iron player, and the way he’s putting now there’s a reason why he’s No. 1 in the world.”
Day joined Woods and Geoff Ogilvy as the only multiple winners of the Match Play.
Day’s semifinal match with McIlroy lived up to the hype. The lead changed seven times. They combined for 11 birdies in chilly, blustery conditions.
“I think the morning’s round was probably one of the hardest rounds I’ve had to go through in match play format to try and get through,” Day said.
The match turned on the 11th hole when Day got up-and-down for par with a 12-foot putt, while McIlroy missed a 6-foot birdie. Day got up-and-down eight times in his match against McIlroy.
On the par-5 12th, McIlroy was first to hit and played well right of the green, away from the water.
Day took on the hazard with a 2-iron that cleared the water by a foot and set up a two-putt birdie that gave him the lead for good.
Finau wins playoff
Tony Finau won the Puerto Rico Open at windy Coco Beach for his first PGA Tour title, beating Steve Marino with a birdie on the third hole of a playoff.
The 23-year-old Finau won with his third straight birdie on the par-5 18th, blasting out of the back bunker to 3 feet. Marino was just off the back edge of the green in two, but left his putt from the fringe 41/2 short and missed his birdie try to the right.
Finau and Marino each shot 2-under 70 to finish at 12-under 276. Marino birdied the 18th to tie Finau, and got into the playoff when Finau missed a 6-foot birdie putt.
Finau and Marino each birdied the 18th on the first two playoff holes.
Ko rolls at Aviara
Lydia Ko won the Kia Classic at Aviara, reaffirming her position as the top player in the world heading into the first major championship of the season.
Ko birdied the final three holes for her third straight 5-under 67 and a four-stroke victory over second-ranked Inbee Park.
Ko finished at 19-under 269. Park closed with a 67.
Back at the top
Jason Day’s path to the Dell Match Play title:
Group play: Defeated Graeme McDowell, 3 and 2, Thongchai Jaidee, 5 and 3, and Paul Casey, concession.
Round of 16: Defeated Brandt Snedeker, 3 and 2.
Quarterfinals: Defeated Brooks Koepka, 3 and 2.
Semifinals: Defeated Rory McIlroy, 1-up.
Final: Defeated Louis Oosthuizen, 5 and 4.