Australian Jason Day outlasted the determined and talented Victor Dubuisson of France in a thrilling 23-hole final in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Dubuisson edged out South African Ernie Els one up in the morning semi-final before taking on Day, who beat Rickie Fowler 3&2 in the other last-four clash.
Day was three-up after 12 holes, and very nearly closed out the final on two occasions on the following holes, with a pair of putts stubbornly refusing to drop. Day looked set for victory at two up with two to play, but Dubuisson fought back in sublime fashion with up-and-downs from sand on the 17th and 18th to win both holes, and force a sudden-death playoff.
The 23 year-old Frenchman kept the match alive with miraculous shots from cacti following errant approaches on the first two extra holes, saving par both times. Both shots were some of the best ever seen at the event, with most viewers in awe of the spectacular results from seemingly dead lies. The Frenchman later had a 20-foot putt to win on the 22nd, which came up agonisingly short.
Dubuisson’s short game was magnificent all day, but on the 23rd hole his chip from thick rough ran way past the flag, and Day’s par was enough to clinch the title and the US$1,530,000 first prize.
Dubuisson’s performance drew comparisons with the late Seve Ballesteros for his never say die attitude and ability to conjure shots from nowhere, and he described the two chips from the desert as “amazing”.
“I just played them like I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I’m happy but at the same time disappointed, because this afternoon I didn’t play very well. I just battled, especially on the back nine.
“I made some good shots, but Jason made some very good putts during the round. His birdie on the par five was amazing. And then he made a very important putt to win.
“I tried to do my best. I tried to fight back. I made a good birdie on the 17th, but in a play-off, you never know how it can go. Next time I will be ready.”
Day praised Dubuisson’s comeback, saying: “Coming down the stretch he was just unbelievable. I’ve never seen someone as young, apart from Jordan Spieth, and in the old days Tiger Woods, be so clutch, especially out of the cactus.
“I kept shaking my head because it was so surprising. There were a couple of times where I thought he was absolutely dead. The tournament was mine. I just stuck through it and it was tough, but I’m glad I got it done.”
Day won for the second time on the PGA TOUR and rose to a career-best No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also moved to 11th in the FedExCup standings.
It was the first time the championship match went overtime since the inaugural year in 1999 at La Costa, when Jeff Maggert chipped on the second extra hole of a 36-hole final.
“Vic, man, he has a lot of guts,” Day said. “He has a great short game — straight out of the cactus twice. For a 23-year-old kid, he’s got a lot of game. We’re going to see a lot of him for years to come.”
“The biggest thing was, ‘How much do I want to win?” I kept saying that to myself. Last night, I kept visualizing myself with the trophy,” Day said. “I’m glad I could finish it off. But it was a close one.”
63 Day def. Dubuisson 23 holes
64 Fowler (53) def. Els (31) 19th hole
61 Day def. Fowler 3 and 2
62 Dubuisson def. Els 1 up