Jason Day won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona, but it was Victor Dubuisson who stole the show with his seemingly magical play.
3-Down during much of the middle of the match, he came to the 17th tee 2-Down. He birdied 17. Both of them hit poor approach shots on 18; Day on the back of the green to a front pin and Dubuisson into the greenside bunker. Day ran his putt by, Dubuisson played a great bunker shot to 4 feet. Day 3-putts leaving the second putt dead on line on the lip, Dubuisson makes. The playoff is on!
On the 1st hole, Dubuisson hits his approach shot over the green, down the bank and into a cactus. You can barely make out the ball. And then he almost casually hits this recovery shot; you gotta see it to believe it:
He hit it to 4 feet to halve the hole after Day played a fine bunker shot.
They move on to the 9th hole where Dubuisson hit almost the identical approach shot he had hit in regulation, a bounding shot down the left embankment and into the desert. In the first instance, he took an unplayable, but when that drop snuggled into small rocks and went unplayable too, he conceded the hole.
In the playoff, his ball ended up in almost the same place, but this time in a small bush from which he played this incredible shot that just made Day smile in amazement; he’d gone over to take a look before he began and it was clear that he had no chance. Wrong:
That putt was a little over 7 feet and Victor made short work of it too. In Day’s post-round interview I asked him:
Q. Jason, exactly what was it like playing Houdini?
That’s what it felt like, because for a second there I didn’t think it was my time again. I really honestly thought that maybe I’ve just got to keep fighting, fighting, fighting.
And with the two shots that he hit on 1 and then on 9, in the extra holes, was just unbelievable to run it through the rough. I mean, the first one — on the first hole, he kind of just hacked at it and it came out pretty good and worked out great. But the one on 9, he actually played — I think he played it to where it was supposed to go. And it was just an unbelievable up and down. His putting is really solid under pressure.
And that solid putting kept Dubuisson going through the next two playoff holes, 10 and 14. His approach shot on 10 ended up short on the front bank, his pitch shot got a hard bounce to 12 feet above the hole…and he made that after Day hit a spectacular shot close out of the front wash.
When they finally arrived at the drivable, par-4 15th (for the third time that day), it was like two Titans standing on the tee. They both had the firepower to easily get there and they did not disappoint. Their tee shots both finished pin high to a tight right pin at the back of the green, Day in the first cut of rough and Dubuisson behind him in the primary rough.
And then when we played 15 again, I knew or he knew, as well, because when he hit his drive out in the rough there, he said under his breath “dead.”
And once I saw it, now I knew he wasn’t going to make birdie. So I just had to get off a good tee shot somewhere around the pin there, not in a similar position where he was. It almost did, but it actually got a little lucky and stayed up.
Dubuisson could get his pitch shot no closer than 32 feet and two-putted for par and Day made a great up and down birdie for his second PGA Tour victory, the first coming at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship.
When you go that long between wins, especially when you’re young, it becomes a drag on your confidence and you sometimes wonder why the second one isn’t coming. But when it finally does, life is wonderful again:
Well, just all the hard work I put in and the opponents that I finished this week that I played against and played well against. Just the great golf I played leading up to the round, the final round, you know, it was — it felt like I was — when I teed off, I felt fine, like it was a normal day, like I didn’t have any pressure on myself at all. Just there was no stress at all. Obviously you get to the back nine and all that stuff starts to come back.
But for a second there, I didn’t think it was going to happen. But I just stuck with it and I said — I just tried to visualize myself with the Walter Hagen Cup last night and just said, “How much do you want it?” Kept on telling myself I want it more than anything in the world. I’m not going to stop until I achieve that. And I’ll find a way to win. I just stuck through it and it was tough for the match today between me and Vic. I’m glad I got it done.
A number of players during the week mentioned that they really appreciate the match play format because with their finality, each match has the feel of Sunday in a regular Tour event.
In golf you have to choke some and hopefully you win more than choke some. But these experiences, these wins, and especially playing match play like this, it’s so similar to playing Sunday rounds that it’s a good experience to play in match play events because it just gets those juices flowing, what you’re going to feel on Sundays at big events.
And to know that you’ve got six rounds of experience to take it for the whole year, it’s so valuable. It’s exciting that I actually got the job done. I know that I can play well against the best players in the world. I’ve done it now in the match play. I’m definitely looking forward to the next one I play. Right now I’ve just got to soak in the win.
And Day also confirmed that the old adage, “Wishing doesn’t make it so,” has a lot of truth to it:
I think the biggest thing that I realized is that it’s easy to come out and go, I want to win. I want to win and it would be great to win once a year or twice a year or whatever. But it’s another thing to actually want to win it. It’s so different between me saying, yeah, I want to win and me actually thinking that I want to win. My mind — I’ve been working so hard on just the whole mental approach and how I approach tournaments and the preparation for myself. Preparation is huge, you know.
We just sat down with my team at the end of last year and they said I’m doing — we’re heading in the right direction. We’re doing all the little things right. We’ve just got to keep going, keep going, and keep working on the little things and it will happen. It took me nearly three years, I guess. I got my second win finally. But just that hard work has paid off.
So hopefully from here on, as long as I keep working hard and I want it as much as this, hopefully the flood gates will open and I’ll win a lot more. But it’s totally up to me if I want to win one more or ten more or 20 more. It’s just how much I want it.
As for Monsieur Dubuisson, the world has come to him too. His Official World Golf Ranking has moved up from to No. 30 to 23 (Day went from 11 to 4), he’ll be in the Masters and is a lock to make the European Ryder Cup team.
I’m very excited about the Ryder Cup. It was a big goal for me this year. Now I have a place on the team. And this event was a good preparation for me because I know what I have to work on for the Ryder Cup.
Plus he will certainly get a number of sponsor invitations — he wants to play in the U.S. — and followers of the game will no longer have to ask, “Who’s that guy?”