Commentary

Day will be major player at Muirfield

Updated: July 14, 2013, 2:11 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

Seriously, how many of you had Adam Scott winning the Masters or Justin Rose taking the U.S. Open? Most of us picked Tiger Woods to win his fifth green jacket after starting the year with four wins.

We were wrong, of course. The 14-time major champion finished in a tie for fourth at Augusta, his eighth top-10 in majors since his major-less drought began after his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines.

Then at Merion, his hopes were drowned after a third-round 76.

[+] EnlargeJason Day
AP Photo/Scott HeppellJason Day is no stranger to contending for golf's biggest titles. At 25, the Australian has finished in the top-10 in nearly half of his 11 major appearances.

Meanwhile, Jason Day posted a third at the Masters and a tie for second at the U.S. Open. Day should be as much a favorite as anyone at the Open Championship, perhaps even more than Tiger.

Here are five reasons why the 25-year-old Australian will get his first major championship this week at Muirfield.

1. Cut man
Day hasn't missed a cut during the 2013 PGA Tour season. This shows not only a pattern of consistency, but a great deal of stamina and mental focus. There is not a player on tour who doesn't have a bad week, and missing a cut comes very easily.

Yet this Queensland native has learned, in his sixth year on tour, how to survive to the weekend to give himself a chance at contending, no matter the condition of his game. It's not that he'll be looking past the cut at Muirfield, but he expects to make it through to the weekend because he's been there all year.

2. Major love
Day has only one PGA Tour win, the 2010 Byron Nelson, but he has five top-10s in just 11 starts in majors, including three seconds and a third. His performance this year in these events nearly matches the T-2 and second-place finishes he had at the Masters and U.S. Open, respectively, in 2011.

At Merion, he didn't collapse under the pressure when he bogeying three of his last eight holes to finish in a tie for second with Mickelson. He simply succumbed to the same Merion East Course that tormented players for four days. If anything, the experience will help him down the stretch at Muirfield.

There is no way that Day can continue on this upward trend without eventually winning one of these coveted prizes.

3. No Open wounds
The married father of one, who stays in his own motor home during tour events in the States, has played in only two Opens with his best finish a T-30 in 2011 at Royal St. George's. It's the only major in which he hasn't had a top-10. He wasn't in the field last year at Lytham, due to the recent birth of his first child.

So he hasn't developed any battle scars around this championship. He hasn't played it enough to develop bad memories and fancy theories about how to play links golf. After a trip around the nine-course Open rotation, he will have plenty of adventures to tell his grandkids, but for now everything is mostly fresh for him about the game's oldest championship.

This clearheaded state of mind should leave him unburdened of pressure through the ups and downs of the tournament.

4. Youth movement
The last two Open winners have been 42-year-olds: Darren Clarke in 2011 and Ernie Els in 2012. Those triumphs didn't exactly announce a new theme in dominance by older players in the championship. In recent years, both Greg Norman and Tom Watson nearly won the tournament in their 50s.

But it does speak to the quirky nature of the event, where experience and some luck can lead to some unexpected results. At 25, Day is really just coming into his prime years on tour. Although he doesn't have a great deal of experience in the Open Championship, he's played a lot of tournament golf under intense pressure. With a win at Muirfield, he can join the youth movement led by Rory McIlroy, who has struggled with his form since changing equipment after his 8-shot win at the PGA Championship in August 2012.

Rose and Scott, both 32 when they won their majors earlier this year, belong really to Tiger's generation and the batch of talent that emerged about a decade ago. With a win at Muirfield, Day could overtake McIlroy, at least momentarily, as the mantle holder of their generation.

5. The 15th club
Day's caddie, Col Swatton, plays many roles for his boss. Since the golfer was 13, Swatton has also been his surrogate father, swing coach and big brother.

There are few player-caddie relationships as tight as this one. Day doesn't make any decisions on the course without the input of Swatton, whom he met when he was a student at the Kooralbyn International Academy in Queensland, where Swatton was the director of golf.

Come late Sunday at Muirfield, Day will be hitting the shots, but Swatton will be calmly directing the team toward its first major championship.