That was just one more reason for the emotions to flow over the Australian’s first victory in five years.
Day shot 9-under 62 for a 1-shot victory over Austin Eckroat and Si Woo Kim on Sunday, ending a drought plagued by health issues that overlapped with Dening Day’s long battle with lung cancer before her death a little more than a year ago.
“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, 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.
Day finished 23 under while ending his victory drought the week before the PGA Championship. The only major among the 35-year-old’s 13 wins was the 2015 PGA.
Day’s first career PGA Tour victory came at the 2010 Nelson, and the victories kept coming until issues his back and vertigo had him on the verge of leaving the game in recent years.
“To be on the other side of it, be healthy, feeling good about my game, finally winning again,” Day said. “No better feeling, really.”
C.T. Pan finished at 21-under 263 with two eagles on the back nine in a career-low 62, driving the green on the par-4 14th and making a 24-foot putt. His eagle at the par-5 18th got him within a shot of Day.
Scheffler finished at 20 under with a final-round 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.
The 2022 Masters winner was playing for the first time in a month coming off this year’s Masters and the RBC Heritage. 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.”
Ryan Palmer, the 46-year-old Texan who lives not far from Craig Ranch, shot 68 and finished 4 strokes back while trying to become the oldest PGA Tour winner since Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA at 50.
With the heaviest rain coming down near the end of an off-and-on rainy final round, Day put his approach at 18 inside 3 feet. Kim’s short birdie putt forced Day to make his easy tap-in before he greeted his kids and wife, who is expecting their fifth child.
Kim, who shot 63 and was 22 under with Eckroat, was trying to make it four consecutive South Korean winners at the Nelson. Two-time defending champion K.H. Lee finished 11 under after a 67, his best round of the week.
Sung Kang was the 2019 winner. The Nelson was canceled because of the pandemic in 2020.
Eckroat, a 24-year-old rookie from Oklahoma seeking his first tour victory, was 2 shots back in the 18th fairway, but his approach landed 68 feet from the pin. The eagle bid was 6 feet short as Eckroat settled for a 65.
Day began the last round 2 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 9 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.”
China’s Marty Dou, on his home course and seeking his first tour win while playing in the final group with Eckroat and Palmer, shot 67 to finish 20 under. Dou was the first to reach that mark before a double bogey on No. 8 when his second shot went out of bounds over the green.
Scheffler, the second-ranked player who could have overtaken Jon Rahm for No. 1 with a victory, was joined at 20 under by Tyrrell Hatton, who was next on the world ranking list in the Nelson field at No. 17.