With Jason Day, he's backing into Masters contender conversation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Playing 85 holes of golf after barely being able to limp off the course hardly seems the prescription for a bad back. Swinging at 120 mph, hitting countless practice balls, walking up and down hills ... Jason Day ought to be in an infirmary, not the winner's circle.

But the Australian overcame back spasms that threatened to bounce him from the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship on Wednesday to win his second tournament in as many weeks and his sixth in his past 13 starts worldwide.

So much for the talk of a slow start that dominated Day's world just 11 days ago. With his 5 and 4 victory on Sunday against Louis Oosthuizen in the final, Day has matched countryman Adam Scott with two wins since the season began in October and put his name squarely in the conversation -- if he wasn't there already -- of Masters contenders who will convene at Augusta National prior to the start of the year's first major championship.

"I am looking forward to it,'' said Day, who captured his second Match Play title in three years and dispatched Rory McIlroy in a morning semifinal match. "It's the one tournament that I've always wanted to win. I've always wanted to put the [green] jacket on and go back every year. It's good momentum for me.''

And to think on Wednesday, he had to kneel down on the green as his first match with Graeme McDowell concluded. That he described the pain in his lower back as "searing.'' That when he arrived at the golf course on Thursday morning after all manner of treatment, he warmed up on the driving range at Austin Country Club and wasn't sure he would be able to play.

Perhaps more amazing, he had several members of his team tell him not to play, to rest and recuperate and not risk further discomfort or injury. "I'm glad I didn't listen,'' he said, smiling.

Day has dealt with his share of maladies, and there has often been reason to wonder if he could ever stay healthy. Vertigo, which plagued him at the U.S. Open last summer, as well as at The Open -- both tournaments where he had heartbreaking close calls -- is no joke.

Then there with the other injuries, such as shoulder and wrist and ankle problems that hampered him through a career that, despite all its promise, had trouble getting momentum until his breakout, five-win, first-major 2015 season.

But to hear him describe his back issues was a bit jarring. After winning on Thursday, Day explained that he has a bulging disk that is "poking through the ligaments and there's a tear in it.'' Yikes. And he swings a golf club for a (lucrative) living?

"My protocol is different exercises to try and citrate the disk,'' he said. "To try to slowly push that back in and take the pressure off that disk and then all try and relax the muscles as much as possible. Because once the muscles relax, the facet joints don't lock up and I can move freely. Once those facet joints lock up and everything goes into spasm, you can't get up.

"There's been a couple of times where I've been just crawling around on the ground for two days. That's the only way I can get around the place.''

Perhaps Tiger Woods needs to ask Day for advice. Much has been made in recent times about the friendship the two golfers have forged, with Day texting the 14-time major champion for all manner of insight about how to excel in the game.

Meanwhile, Woods is now seven months into his golf hiatus, with a second back surgery and little in the way of updates keeping us wondering when he might return. Woods also has dealt with a disk issue, which has required three surgeries.

This is in no way to suggest that their situations are the same; there is too little information to make that call. Woods is 12 years older than Day, and it is unclear when Woods' back issues truly began. But Day said he's been dealing with back trouble since he was 13, and it is an issue. "I think every golfer has a disk problem,'' Day said.

"It's never fun to struggle with a lower back,'' said Oosthuizen, who withdrew from two major championships and was unable to play a third due to disk and spine issues. "I've had every single lower-back issue you can have.

"If you look at where the game is going these days, maybe one swings it harder and tries to get it farther. So it's chasing swing speed and ball speed and something is going to cave. The training needs to be really, really good."

"When I've had disk problems," Oosthuizen continued, "I couldn't even take a back swing. I couldn't get in the position of standing over the golf ball, because I didn't end forward. You've got no chance of hitting it, and that's not a nice feeling.''

Day said he spent an hour before and after each round -- and 30 minutes between rounds on the weekend -- getting therapy. He has a personal trainer who was out of the country this week but who will rejoin him this week before he heads to Augusta, where Day plans to set up shop on Thursday.

Once there, Day will begin his Masters prep, trying to balance staying at the top of his game with not overdoing it. He already has two top-3 finishes at the Masters, and his PGA Championship title and No. 1 ranking give him plenty of confidence.

Whether he has the same faith in his back will likely go a long way toward determining his place among the leaders at Augusta National.