Almost as stunning as Victor Dubuisson pulling off miracle shot after miracle shot to keep extending the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Sunday, it was hard to fathom that Jason Day's eventual victory was just his second on the PGA Tour. He'll jump to a career-best No. 4 in the world, a remarkably high standing with so few victories. But he's been in contention in every major the past few years, right?
Yes and no. First, Day captured the 2010 Byron Nelson as a 22-year-old. Then in 2011, the Aussie finished second in both the Masters and U.S. Open. In 2013, he was third in the Masters, second in the U.S. Open and eighth in the PGA Championship.
In between, though, there was 2012. Little went right for Day that year, outside of the birth of his first child, which contributed to what went wrong on the golf course. He suffered two injuries, he devoted time to his new son and his best major result was T59 in the U.S. Open. As Day has since discussed, he lost his focus and developed a poor work ethic. It showed. But his family and inner circle staged an intervention of sorts at the end of the year, and he began 2013 revitalized. And when countryman Adam Scott captured the Masters, that, too, propelled Day.
He's shown a penchant for match play before, finishing third last year, losing to eventual champion Matt Kuchar, and tying for ninth in 2011. But he needed more than match-play strategy to hold off the little-known Dubuisson on Sunday; he needed to avoid getting discouraged after the Frenchman birdied No. 17 and Day sloppily three-putted No. 18 to force overtime.
And then Day needed to stomach Dubuisson's back-to-back miracle shots from the desert on the first two extra holes, balls that were so dead Dubuisson might've taken penalty drops or, worse, conceded the holes had they not meant the loss of the match.
"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 told reporters in Arizona.
Three holes later, after Dubuisson hit another "dead" shot that this time really did leave him dead, the tournament finally belonged to Day. Following a thrilling, marathon final match that lasted 23 holes, he got to celebrate with his wife and son, now 19 months old.
In less than two months, Day will return Augusta, looking to exchange those close calls for a green jacket. He'll be among the favorites, right behind Scott and Tiger Woods.
You may not have heard of him before Wednesday, but he actually entered the week at No. 30 in the world, a seventh seed. He's now 23rd, one spot ahead of Luke Donald. After ending Graeme McDowell's spirited run in the fourth round and dispatching Ernie Els in the semifinals, the Frenchman earned enough this week -- $906,000 – to secure temporary status on the PGA Tour, if he wants it, not to mention a spot on the European Ryder Cup team this fall. He'll tee it up next at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in two weeks, and probably a lot more frequently in the States.
Still standing at one career win, this may have been Fowler's second best week as a pro. He took down match-play titan Ian Poulter in the first round, then hottest-player-on-the-planet Jimmy Walker, then Ryder Cup stalwart Sergio Garcia and finally Jim Furyk before falling to Day. Fowler then beat Els in the third-place match to end his week with a leap from 56th to 38th in the OWGR.
Of the eight quarterfinalists, Els had by far the worst stroke-play score, the only one over par. But that's the beauty of match play. He played his best match in the quarters, taking down Jordan Spieth, before falling to Dubuisson in the semifinals and Fowler in the third-place match. At age 44, it doesn't seem Els can compete for titles anymore, but he's still No. 29 in the world and less than two years removed from winning the Open Championship. On any given week, suspect putter and all, Els still can be a factor.
The favorite of many coming into the week was gone on Day 1, ousted by Fowler by a 2-and-1 score in a match that didn't seem that close. If Poulter doesn't fare well at match play, how does the rest of the year shape up for him? He's not entered in this week's Honda, so we'll get a first indication in two weeks in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
McDowell got all the headlines for his string of comeback wins, because he rallied late. But Furyk found himself two down within the first three holes in each of his first three matches, against Chris Kirk, Charl Schwartzel and Harris English, and came back to win all three. But Furyk owners will no doubt only remember the quarterfinal loss to Fowler, when he blew a late lead in the latest edition of excruciating Furyk finishes.
Stricker played for the first time in 2014, and it showed. He almost didn't come to Dove Mountain, as his brother awaited a liver transplant (he got one). Stricker then lost to South African George Coetzee in the first round, 3-and-1. Stricker managed to chalk up a pretty good year in 2013 while dialing back his schedule. Having further reduced his tournament load this year, it might be too much to expect him to be a solid fantasy choice. Hope for the best in the majors and rest of the WGCs.
Like Stricker, this was Donald's first showing in 2014. And he was promptly waxed by Matteo Manassero, 5-and-4. Donald has fallen to No. 24 in the world, and he's shown little indication of reversing that slide. But maybe he just needs more reps - he's in this week's Honda Field, followed by the Cadillac. Stay tuned.