MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — One shot came out of bottom of a cactus, the other from the base of a desert bush with rocks scattered around it.
Both times, Jason Day felt the Match Play Championship was his to win Sunday. And both times, he watched Victor Dubuisson turn the impossible into pars in the wildest conclusion ever to a tournament that is unpredictable even in normal circumstances.
“At that time, you’re just thinking, `Do I need to just hand him the trophy now after those two shots?'” Day said.
Dubuisson finally ran out of magic.
Day ended the madness at Dove Mountain on the fifth extra hole when he pitched over a mound to 4 feet and made birdie, a sigh of relief as much as it was cause for celebration at capturing his first World Golf Championship.
“I kept shaking my head because there was a couple of time there where I thought he was absolutely dead – the tournament was mine,” Day said.
It was remarkable enough when the 23-year-old Frenchman stood in a fairway bunker on the 17th hole, 174 yards away and needing to win the last two holes to force overtime. He did just that with a 15-foot birdie and a par save from the bunker.
And then came back-to-back pars that defied belief.
Dubuisson sailed over the green on No. 1 and into the desert, the ball lodged at the base of a cholla. Day was in the bunker, a fairly simple shot, especially when CBS announcer David Feherty walked over and said the Frenchman would have to take a penalty drop.
With an all-or-nothing swing, Dubuisson whacked his 9-iron through the sharp needs and into a TV cable. The ball scooted up a hill covered by 3-inch rough and onto the green to 4 feet below the hole. He made par to keep going.
It was reminiscent of the shot Bill Haas pulled off at East Lake from shallow water on the 17th hole in a playoff.
Only this was even more improbable – and it came with an encore.
From the ninth fairway, Dubuisson pulled his approach left of the green, left of the bleacher and into the desert at the bottom of a bush.
“I walked over there and it was in a tree, a flower tree of some sort, in this little crevice. I mean, it looked absolutely dead,” Day said. “I’m like, `Yes.’ I hit 8-iron into 20 feet. There was so much pressure on him. And he does it again.”
After halving the next two holes with bogeys and pars, Day watched his opponent hit driver on the 333-yard 15th hole too far too the right. And he heard the Frenchman say under his breath, “Dead.”
He was only in the grass, but Day knew better. The chip was nearly impossible to get close. Day was 20 feet closer, in shorter grass, and pitched to 4 feet. Dubuisson hit his flop shot 30 feet past the hole and missed the birdie putt.
“I’m disappointed because I made some terrible shots,” Dubuisson said on the 15th green when it was over, ignoring the two that were as close to a miracle as golf allows.
But they were incredible. Even the great Seve Ballesteros would have saluted this performance.
“Those two shots were amazing,” Dubuisson said. “I just played it like I had nothing to lose.”
He gained plenty in defeat. This tournament will be remembered as much for two improbable shots out of the desert as Day winning a trophy he always believed would belong to him – even in the midst of shots that defied belief.
Day won for the second time on the PGA Tour and rose to a career-best No. 4 in the world.
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. That was like watching paint dry compared with the show Dubuisson put on.
“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.”
Day won $1.53 million. Lost in all the theater was that he never trailed over the final 53 holes of this fickle tournament.
Dubuisson earned $906,000, all but assuring a PGA Tour card for next year. And he all but clinched a spot on the Ryder Cup team in September, moving to the top of the points table by the equivalent of about $1.5 million.
Dubuisson only reached the championship match by rallying from 3-down after six holes against Ernie Els in the morning semifinals. The Frenchman said he couldn’t sleep Saturday night, perhaps because he realized he was playing a four-time major champion.
He wound up beating Els with a par on the 18th hole to meet Day, who beat Rickie Fowler 3 and 2.
Fowler beat Els in 19 holes in the third-place match.
For all the heroics by Dubuisson over the final hour of this amazing show, Day certainly had his moments. Perhaps his greatest feat was never losing faith he would win, even as it appeared the golfing gods were in Dubuisson’s corner.
“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.”