Former world No. 1 Jason Day ends five-year winless drought with Byron Nelson triumph

AP photo by LM Otero / Jason Day hits his tee shot on the second hole at TPC Craig Ranch during the final round of the PGA Tour's Byron Nelson tournament on Sunday in McKinney, Texas. Day closed with a 62 for a one-stroke victory and his first win since the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship.

McKINNEY, Texas — Jason Day didn't make the Mother's Day connection until he saw his late mom's name on the back of his caddie's bib on the first green Sunday afternoon.

That was just one more reason for the emotions to flow over his first victory in five years.

In a final round where there were plenty of red numbers throughout the field, no one went lower than Day, who closed with a 9-under-par 62 for a one-shot victory at the Byron Nelson over Austin Eckroat (65) and South Korea's Si Woo Kim (63). In securing the 13th PGA Tour win of his career, the 35-year-old Australian ended a drought plagued by health challenges that overlapped with Dening Day's long battle with lung cancer before her death a little more than a year ago at age 65.

"It was very emotional to go through and to experience what she was going through, then I had injuries on top of all of that going on in my life," Day said. "It feels strange to be sitting here."

Day, winless in 105 starts since the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship, took his first outright lead from a large group of contenders when he broke a tie at 20 under with hometown favorite Scottie Scheffler with a chip-in for birdie at the par-4 12th. It was the second-toughest hole of the week after being converted from a par- 5 from the first two years the Nelson was held at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, about 30 miles north of Dallas.

A former No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking who entered the week at No. 20, Day finished the 72-hole Byron Nelson at 23-under 261 while ending his victory drought four days before the PGA Championship tees off at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. Day won his lone major at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

The first win of his PGA Tour career was the 2010 Byron Nelson, and the victories kept coming until trouble with his back and vertigo had him on the verge of giving up the sport in recent years. While Sunday marked his seventh top-10 finish of a season in which he has made the cut in 16 starts, he was coming off a missed cut the week before at the Wells Fargo Championship.

"To be on the other side of it," Day said, "be healthy, feeling good about my game, finally winning again — no better feeling, really."

Taiwan's C.T. Pan matched Day's round by making two eagles on the back nine for a career-low 62, driving the green on the par-4 14th and making a 24-foot putt for the first. His second eagle, at the par-5 18th, got him within a shot of Day, but Pan wound up fourth at 21 under.

The second-ranked Scheffler, who could have overtaken Masters winner Jon Rahm for No. 1 in the world with a victory, finished at 20 under with a 65 after a par on 18, where a day earlier his second shot hit the lip of a fairway bunker and stayed in it on the way to a bogey.

He tied for fifth with China's Marty Dou (67) — who was playing on his home course and seeking his first PGA Tour win while playing in the final group with Eckroat and Ryan Palmer — and England's Tyrell Hatton (64), who was next on the world ranking list in the tournament field at No. 17. Dou was the first to reach 20 under before a double bogey on No. 8, when his second shot went out of bounds over the green.

Scheffler, the 2022 Masters winner, was playing for the first time since the RBC Heritage a month ago. He had the hometown spotlight to himself after three-time major winner Jordan Spieth withdrew because of a wrist injury.

"I feel like I played solid," Scheffler said. "The things that I wanted to improve on over the last three weeks, I feel like I did a good job. I didn't swing it my best this weekend, but I'm sure that'll be an easy fix going into next week."

Palmer, a 46-year-old Texan who lives not far from Craig Ranch, shot a 68 and finished four strokes back while trying to become the oldest PGA Tour winner since Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship at 50. Palmer shared eighth place with Sweden's Vincent Norman (66) and Australia's Adam Scott (68).

  photo  AP photo by LM Otero / Stephan Jaeger lines up a putt on the 18th hole at TPC Craig Ranch during the final round of the PGA Tour's Byron Nelson tournament Sunday in McKinney, Texas. Jaeger, a Chattanooga resident who played at Baylor School and UTC, tied for 11th after closing with a 63.

Chattanooga's Stephan Jaeger could have joined fellow Baylor School graduates Harris English and Luke List in the field at the year's second major with a victory. He made a push with his bogey-free 63, but on a vulnerable course, that was only good enough to tie for 11th at 18 under with Kevin Tway (63) and Richy Werenski (66).

It's the best result for Jaeger since he tied for ninth at the Houston Open in early November. The 33-year old from Germany has never played the PGA Championship, but as of Sunday evening, his name was the first one on the alternate list for Oak Hill.

Another Baylor grad, Luke List (65), tied for 34th at 13 under.

Kim was trying to make it four consecutive South Korean winners at the tournament. Compatriot K.H. Lee, who won the Byron Nelson the past two years — Sung Kang won in 2019 and the event was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic — tied for 50th at 11 under after a 67, his best round of the week.

A South Korean was the first-round leader this year after S.Y. Noh tied the course record with a 60 on Thursday, but he wound up tying for 74th at 7 under, with his second-best round a 70 on Sunday.

Eckroat, a 24-year-old rookie from Oklahoma seeking his first PGA Tour victory, was two shots back in the 18th fairway, but his approach landed 68 feet from the pin. The eagle bid was six feet short.

Day began the final round two shots back and was part of a six-way tie for the lead with the final group about to make the turn. Nine players were within a shot of the lead around the same time.

"I looked on hole nine and saw I don't know how many guys, but 10, 15 guys had a chance to win realistically, and it was crazy," Eckroat said. "You're just trying to get up there, and it was fun to get some separation at the end and see if you could get a chance to win."

With the heaviest rain coming down near the end of an off-and-on rainy final round, Day put his approach at 18 inside three feet. Kim's short birdie putt forced Day to make his easy tap-in before he greeted his kids and wife Ellie, who is expecting their fifth child.

In interviews after the tournament, Day said he "was in tears for a little bit there" with thoughts of his own mother, and he credited his wife for her sacrifice but admitted he still had to get her a Mother's Day present.

For the time being, he gave Ellie something to celebrate with him.

"To be honest, I was very close to calling it quits," Day said. "I never told my wife that, but I was OK with it, just because it was a very stressful part of my life.

"Ellie, she never gave up on me trying to get back to the winner's circle again. She just always was pushing me to try and get better."