- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2011

When Rory McIlroy blew his lead on the back nine at the Masters, Charl Schwartzel pounced on the green jacket. Jason Day and Adam Scott couldn’t keep up with Schwartzel’s birdies down the stretch and wound up tied for second.

Day made up for a lot of those lost birdies in his third round at the U.S. Open, picking up six of them on an otherwise mistake-free afternoon to complete a 6-under 65 performance. While McIlroy was steady and still holds a healthy lead, the 23-year-old Aussie moved to 5-under for the tournament and will get rewarded with a late tee time Sunday.

But don’t think his eyes are set on second place.

“I always want to try to win,” he said. “And, you know, playing for second place, I guess you’re playing for first loser.”

Day got a taste of that feeling in Augusta for the Masters, and while that course differs from Congressional Country Club, he said that tournament provided something of a boost even without a trophy.

“The way I finished at the Masters obviously gave me a confidence boost coming into this event,” he said. “But you don’t want to come into this event thinking you’re going to finish great just because of the Masters.”

Day earned his spot on the leaderboard at the U.S. Open by making a drastic improvement on his first two rounds (71 and 72, respectively). He said he knew a low score was possible Saturday after watching Webb Simpson come out of nowhere to shoot under par.

Still, Day didn’t expect to shoot 6-under on this kind of course. When he did, he made Simpson’s morning a bit of an afterthought and put his name in with McIlroy and Lee Westwood, who’s also at 5-under.

“I drove the ball great and I hit a lot of good quality shots into the greens on the front nine and putted great,” Day said.

The chase after McIlroy could be an odd one, given how much distance the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland put between himself and the rest of the field. That changes the mentality a bit, Day said, but he’s still focusing on something a little better than the “first loser.”

“He’d be feeling it and I’d be feeling it if it was closer,” Day said. “He’s been hitting it great over the last three days. It’s going to be tough to try and catch him.”