The WGC Accenture Match Play tournament ended with the most dramatic, insane finals match that appeared over as early as the 16th hole, but ended up being the longest title game in the event's history. Finally, on the 23rd hole, Jason Day dispatched the indefatigable Victor Dubuisson for the biggest win of his career.
Day is unanimously considered one of the top 10 to 12 golfers in the world, and is always a favorite and trendy pick to win at the sport's majors. But for all the close calls and contentions he's had at the four biggest tournaments, he remarkably had just one PGA Tour win in his career. His only victory on the American Tour came almost four years ago at Byron Nelson in Dallas … until Sunday.
Day, again one of the favorites to roll through the WGC Accenture Match Play bracket this week, did just that by cruising into Sunday's final against Dubuisson, the longshot and unknown Frenchman. Day had not really been tested since the second round, when he needed 22 holes to beat American ace Billy Horschel, another popular darkhorse. After wiping out Rickie Fowler in his morning semifinals match, Day was pushed to the limit and beyond by Dubuisson, who did not let up despite a multi-hole deficit throughout the back nine and two ridiculous lies in extra holes.
Dubuisson was 3-down with just six holes to go, a large margin in match play format. But the Frenchman and No. 7 seed chipped into it by winning the 13th hole. Still, he came to the 17th tee 2-down with the nearly impossible task of trying to pull even with the heavily favored No. 2 seed Day. He's surprised bigger names and mored decorated players all week, and Dubuisson did it one more time, taking the 17th and 18th holes when Day had him dormie. Dubuisson put his ball in a greenside bunker on the 18th, shortsided just left of the front pin. But he delicately blasted out of the bunker to put his ball a few feet from the hole, and converted the impressive up-and-down.
Day, who had not played the 18th hole since that Horschel showdown on Thursday, sent his approach shot all the way to the back of the green, setting up a difficult two-putt back down the hill to the front pin. His second putt was a relatively easy putt back up the hill to the hole to end it on the 18th green. Unfortunately for Day, he was just a revolution short of the win and that would be just the beginning of his slog to the title (via Adam Sarson):
On the first extra hole, it appeared Dubuisson's comeback effort would be wasted when he completely airmailed his approach shot over the green. Dubuisson pulled 7-iron, and just crushed it over the green, the ball bounding into the desert and settling next to a "teddy bear cholla" cactus, which CBS called the nastiest cactus in the desert. The match, at that point, appeared over again. There was no way he could get up-and-down. Well, the obscure Euro went ahead and blasted out of the junk, spraying cactus chunks AND hitting a camera cable but putting his ball around three feet from the hole (GIF via Adam Sarson).
That right there is just about the best recovery shot you will ever see, and Nick Faldo said as much on the broadcast. A par seemed inconceivable after rocketing his approach into the desert, and yet he somehow ended up inside of Day, who had to get up-and-down from a bunker (which was still a much better lie and position).
On the second extra hole at No. 9, Dubuisson put his ball in the junk AGAIN and hit an absurd recovery shot AGAIN. It was the most ridiculous, one-in-a-million sequence on two straight holes, and all Day could do was shake his head and laugh. Dubuisson was against a dead branch on the sandy wash, but just popped it up onto the green inside of 10 feet for yet another save.
Graeme McDowell, who lost to Dubuisson on Saturday, summed up the back-to-back saves:
Those may be the two best escape shots I've ever seen. Allez Victor. #rydercup2014— Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell) February 23, 2014
This was Dubuisson's view, via Stephanie Wei:
The spot left of the green on no. 9 where Victor Cholla hit it to 7 feet. pic.twitter.com/C72rh2bxwP— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) February 23, 2014
The third playoff hole did not necessitate a twice-in-a-lifetime recovery short, but Dubuisson did fail to get up-and-down from short of the green. Day, however, was also way short of the green on his approach shot and then blasted his par putt past the right edge. The smashed bogeys took things to a 22nd hole, and two pars pushed it to a 23rd hole.
At long last, Dubuisson relented and could not get up-and-down from the thick rough on a Dove Mountain par-3, the 23rd hold of this match (the second of the day for both). Day put his ball inside five feet and walked off with the clinching par … it was just two hours later than he expected.
Day has had bigger weeks on tour, but not bigger wins. This WGC victory, one of the richest and most competitive of the season, could be the boost that Day needs to finally breakthrough at the majors. He'll be in the hunt at Augusta, and now he's got a huge win under his belt to put him right in form at a course where he's already one of the favorites.