Masters a major touchstone for Australia’s Day

Jason Day of Australia, pictured in March 2018, will have his good friend Rika Batibasaga serving as his caddie at Augusta

Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Jason Day felt the magic of the Masters long before he made his first trip to Augusta National, and two top-three finishes in seven appearances have only whetted the Australian’s appetite for a green jacket.

Day, a former world number one, returned to the top 10 in the rankings after edging Alex Noren in a marathon playoff at Torrey Pines in January.

He recalls watching on television as a 21-year-old Tiger Woods took his stunning first Masters victory in 1997, the feat sparking a 9-year-old Day into playing more competitive golf.

“So I absolutely love this event,” said Day, whose first appearance at Augusta in 2011 saw him contend for the title before Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes to triumph ahead of Day and compatriot Adam Scott.

That experience shaped Day’s understanding of the importance of golf’s major championships, with their extreme stresses and out-sized rewards.

“That was a great introduction to what you felt trying to win a major championship, what you sensed out there, the feeling of the crowds, the feeling of can you push far enough mentally and physically,” Day said. “It is so addicting.”

The experience was all the more sensational since Day had come close to giving up golf shortly before the Masters, feeling that he just wasn’t enjoying himself on the course.

His team talked him into playing, “coming up with a plan of just going out there and having fun,” Day said.

Despite his emphasis on preparation for the majors, there’s a free-wheeling aspect to Day’s approach this year as well, with good friend Rika Batibasaga serving as his caddie.

“Having Rika on the bag this week, I think hopefully that will make things a little bit more light out there for me and a little bit more fun,” said Day, who also came close in 2013 before settling for third. “Over the last few years it has been more of a grind trying to get that win.”

Day isn’t concerned that Batibasaga is a newcomer to Augusta, where experience is considered key.

They have the benefit of the yardages and information painstakingly collected by former caddie Colin Swatton — who will still be in Augusta in his role as coach.

“To a certain degree I think when you have your coach on the bag, you kind of think, OK, well he’s going to say something about this shot, so I better not play that shot.

“I think that’s what Rika will bring to this week, is a lot of fun and enjoyment. I think he’s going to be nervous walking down the first hole, but he should be fine.”