Struggle makes Day's win more special
February 23, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- With victory seemingly slipping away from Jason Day, he closed it out in fashion against Victor Dubuisson. (Greenwood/Getty Images)
MARANA, Ariz. -- After all the shots that left him shaking his head in disbelief like the rest of us on Sunday afternoon, especially Victor Dubuisson's stunning escape from beside that small cholla and the other ball he liberated from the branches of a bush, Jason Day was still focused on one thing.
He wanted to win the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
On Saturday night, in fact, Day had tried to visualize himself holding the wedgewood blue Walter Hagen Cup. He thought about how great it would be to finally end a victory drought that stretched back to the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship.
"I kept telling myself I want it more than anything in the world," Day said firmly.
But there were times on Sunday, as Day battled the extraordinarily resilient Dubuisson, who kept doing his best imitation of Seve Ballesteros, that the 26-year-old Aussie feared it might not happen. When he made that final 4-footer in an afternoon packed with drama worthy of next week's Academy Awards, though, it was the tactician who ended up beating the magician on the 23rd hole.
With the long-awaited victory, Day moved up to 11th in the FedExCup and fourth in the world. He silenced some critics, too, who had wondered why the man who kept putting himself in contention at majors -- four top-three finishes in the last three years -- only had one PGA TOUR win.
"At the end of the day, I've had a lot of consistent finishes in big events and obviously I said to myself I've got to keep working hard and work, work, work, work, work smart," Day said. "As long as I don't give up and keep pushing through, it will happen again. And hopefully happen in bunches."
And even in defeat, Dubuisson -- who Day said has "unbelievable heart" -- ended up a winner. He all but solidified his spot on the European Ryder Cup team and assured himself of Special Temporary membership on the PGA TOUR should the 23-year-old from France decide to accept it.
"Vic coming down the stretch was just unbelievable," Day said. "I've never seen someone as young, apart from Jordan Spieth, and in the old days Tiger Woods, how clutch he was, especially out of the cactus. I kept shaking my head because it was so surprising because there was a couple of times there where I thought he was absolutely dead. The tournament was mine."
Not so fast. Dubuisson, who quit school before he was a teenager and has climbed to No. 23 in the world in four short years as a pro, made Day work for everything he got on Sunday. He rallied from 3 down with six holes to play and 2 down with just two left to force extra holes, making a clutch birdie at the 17th and getting a mulligan of sorts when Day three-putted the 18th.
And the shots the shy Frenchman hit to extend the match were nothing short of remarkable.
"I just played it like I had nothing to lose," Dubuisson said simply.
And nothing else he could do, either, when his approach on the first playoff hole bounced over the green and nestled up next to the base of that prickly cactus. Dubuisson stepped into the desert gingerly but played the shot with abandon, catching a television cable as he swung through, and watched as the ball settled 4 feet from the flagstick.
"On the first playoff hole, I was a little bit surprised it ended up in the desert," Dubuisson said. "It was a great shot, but then I made two very good ups and downs."
"It made my shot a lot harder," acknowledged Day, who had gotten false hope when told by CBS announcer David Feherty that the Frenchman had an unplayable lie.
The ninth hole was the second one in overtime and Dubuisson's approach shot looked eerily like the one he hit in regulation as the ball veered left of the grandstands and landed in the desert once again. The ball settled between several branches of a bush dotted with with yellow flowers. Dubuisson stepped into the brush and quickly hit his third shot -- and once again the ball popped onto the green for another clutch par save.
That second Houdini moment found Day crouched beside the green, smiling and shaking his head at yet another stunning turn of events.
"I walked over there, and it was in a tree, a flower tree of some sort, in this little crevice," the Aussie said. "It looked absolutely dead. I'm like, Yes. I hit 8-iron to 20 feet. There was so much pressure on him. And he does it again.
"At that time you're just thinking like do I need to just hand him the trophy now after those two shots?"
"Those two shots were amazing," agreed the soft-spoken Dubuisson, who looks a little like the David Simms character Don Johnson played in the movie "Tin Cup."
But his magic touch finally ran out at the tantalizingly short par-4 15th hole where Dubuisson's drive landed on a hill in the right rough. This time the chip the Frenchman thought was "perfect" caught a bad bounce and skidded across the green, leaving him an improbable 32-footer for birdie when Day had one from 4.
"When he hit his drive out in the rough there, he said under his breath, 'Dead,' " Day recalled. "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."
Day made the most of the opportunity this time and finally breathed a sigh of relief when he ended the electrifying match with the 4-foot birdie putt.
"I felt like I had a heart attack out there a couple of times," he said. "... People don't understand the momentum and the switches of momentum and the neutral ground that you have. There's a lot of kind of strategy that goes into match play that a lot of people just don't know about.
"... It's a great feeling when you're out there playing. I wish I could express the way I felt and the way match play format is, but I just can't."
But the smile as Day lifted his son Dash into his arms and kissed his wife Ellie said it all.