G'day! Aussie Jason Day puts team on (bad) back to win AREA 3-1-3 shootout

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — The man with the bad back put his team on his back.

Jason Day, former No. 1-ranked golfer in the world until chronic back issues stalled his career, led his team of amateurs to the championship belt in the AREA 3-1-3 celebrity scramble Tuesday night at a soggy Detroit Golf Club. Day wore the wrestling-style belt around his shoulder, rather than the waist.

"Don't want to hurt my back, mate," Day, the Australia native, said while standing in the middle of the Rocket Mortgage Classic's AREA 3-1-3, on the 15th tee.

Jason Day, talking to sportscaster Mike Tirico on Tuesday, raised the championship belt after winning the AREA 3-1-3 celebrity shootout at Detroit Golf Club.

The three-hole celebrity shootout was played over the signature stretch of the course — the par-5 14th, the par-3 15th and the par-4 16th.

Day's team shot 4 under over the three holes, highlighted by an eagle at No. 14. Day hit his approach shot over the water to about 5 inches.

His team also included 48-year-old Timothy O'Neal, for his second win of the week. O'Neal won the inaugural John Shippen tournament to earn an exemption into this week's RMC.

Other pros participating included Phil Mickelson (who played with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo), Bryson DeChambeau, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Harold Varner III and LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson. Celebrities included Lions legend Barry Sanders, a Katke-Cousins member who made a birdie on 15, and NFL star Larry Fitzgerald.

DeChambeau, the booming driver, drew a big and intrigued crowd for his opening tee shot, on the 16th hole. It went long, but it didn't go well.

"Can I get a mulligan?" DeChambeau asked.

Day, 33, is in the Rocket Mortgage Classic for a second straight year, having missed the cut a year ago. The former PGA champion hasn't won since 2018, but was in contention last week at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. He was near the lead at the start of Sunday's final round and tied for 10th, despite lingering back pain that made it difficult for him to reach down and pick his ball out of the hole.

The Travelers showing was Day's third-best finish of the season, and his best since February. He's a 12-time PGA Tour winner, his last coming at the Wells Fargo Championship in May 2018. In one two-year stretch, 2015-16, Day won eight times, including his lone major, the 2015 PGA Championship.

The celebrity shootout wasn't held last year, with no fans because of COVID-19, so it was hastily replaced by a television exhibition that featured Watson, Day, Varner and Wesley Bryan. Watson and Varner raised the wrestling belts in 2020, and raised more than $1 million for charity.

AREA 3-1-3, paying homage to Detroit's area code, is a big charity fund-raiser for the tournament, which also features a promotion that triggers a $313,000 charity donation — half to the player's choice — should any player go 3-1-3 (eagle-ace-birdie) at any point in the four-day tournament on those three holes.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984