Date: February 24, 2014
Author: Martin Blake / www.golf.org.au

Day wins WGC MatchPlay, climbs to world no.4

y Australian golf lover is anticipating the imminent return of Adam Scott and his defence of the Masters at Augusta National in April, plus his tilt at unseating Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the world. But Scott has at least one other problem and his name is Jason Day.

Day's momentous victory in the World Golf Championship Accenture Matchplay title in the Arizona desert is the biggest of his career. He has won in America before, back in 2010, and he won the individual section of the World Cup at Royal Melbourne in December, which does not count in his list of 'official' tour wins. But this is his first WGC title, and they have come to sit immediately beneath the four majors for men.

The big knock on 26-year-old day used to be that he could not find a way to win. He often played himself into contention but did not close the deal, and he has six top-10s in majors to show for that. But it's not true anymore. The boy from Queensland is maturing, fulfilling the promise he first showed when he won the world junior championship in 2004.

He will wake tomorrow as the world's No. 4 player, his career-high ranking and just three spots from assuming the mantle he set himself to reach a long time ago. With Scott (No. 2) and Day, Australian golf suddenly looks remarkably strong, not to mention that Karrie Webb is still in the top 10 on the women's side and that the likes of Minjee Lee, the amateur who won the Victorian Open on the weekend, is coming through.

Day had a remarkable week. He took 22 holes to win his first match against Billy Horschel, but then cruised through to the semi-final, teeing off not long after dawn today at Dove Mountain against Ricky Fowler. Nearly 11 hours on, he was still trying to finish off a conjurer of a Frenchman in Victor Dubuisson, the world No. 30 and a man whose name is now etched into the psyche of golf-lovers.

It was one of the greatest matches ever seen, an epic and a classic.

Day was by far the dominant player through nine holes, three up. Even at the 12th hole he was three up and his putt for birdie lipped out; had it gone in, he was four up. Then Dubuisson, a former European amateur champion, rallied strongly. Day was still two up with two to play, and at the 17th, Dubuisson drove into a fairway trap. Producing an astonishing six iron shot from 165 metres, the Frenchman somehow got up and down for birdie to extend the match.

Still, Day only needed a half at the 18th to win the match, and his approach found the back of the green while Dubuisson was bunkered. This time the Frenchman got up and down and Day's birdie putt for the win glided three metres past the cup. Another putt to win it all, and it stopped short in the jaws. The Frenchman had survived, winning the hole and extending the match.

The drama was only beginning. Dubuisson made two consecutive recovery pars that will go into the annals, arguably among the best ever seen. The first came from halfway up a cactus bush at the 19th hole, hit with an almost carefree attitude but to inside two metres from the hole. Certainly there was a big element of luck, but the Frenchman is renowned for short game. It deserves to go into the archives among the great shots of tournament golf.

The second, from underneath a bush in the desert area beside the next hole, brought a wry smile from Day. Of course, it stopped close to the cup and Dubuisson made his par. Apparently bulletproof as he waited to putt, the momentum kept turning back. Day had another putt to win at that hole but missed. His plight was becoming distinctly Normanesque and his body language grew worse; he was frustrated, and nervous.

At the 22nd, his luck changed. The 23-year-old Dubuisson had a five-metre downhill putt to win the match but missed, reprieving the Australian. Then at the 23rd, with darkness falling, Day hit a lovely, spinning chip from beside the 15th green, a short, driveable par-four, and Dubuisson, from a similar spot, went long. The Frenchman's long putt for birdie did not fall, leaving Day a metre for the title.

He buried it with his new mallet-style putter, an impliment with the word 'Dash' stamped on the bottom after his young son, Dash, who was on the green to celebrate along with his American wife Ellie. "We did it,'' said Col Swattan, Day's mentor, caddie, coach and father-figure.

"I think the biggest thing was just 'how much do I want it?','' said Day. "How much do I want to win. I was visualising myself with the trophy last night, and I'm just glad I could finish it off. But it was a close one.''

Meanwhile Adam Scott resumes playing this week in the Honda Classic in Florida after a six-week break. Jason Day has spent nine years as the Next Big Thing, producing good results but a lack of entries in the 'W' column that was noted. Now, he has corrected that weakness, and graduated to WGC level. Majors are next on the wish list.

All you can say is … bring it on.