(Reuters) - Three months after bursting into the limelight with his maiden victory on the European Tour, Victor Dubuisson elevated his profile on the PGA Tour in spectacular fashion Sunday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Despite never having played matchplay golf until this week’s elite event in Marana, Arizona, the 23-year-old Frenchman produced several moments of magic, along with a bucketful of birdies, as he stormed through to Sunday’s final.
Though bitterly disappointed after losing one down to Australian Jason Day in a marathon title match that lasted 23 holes at Dove Mountain, Dubuisson had much to be proud of after making only his fifth start on the U.S. circuit.
“I‘m happy but, at the same time, disappointed because this afternoon I didn’t play very well,” the Cannes native told reporters after a birdie by Day at the 23rd hole, the driveable par-four 15th, ended the match.
”I just battled, especially the back nine. And at the end, I really battled hard because I wanted to take a chance, at least try to take my chance.
“I’ve learned that my nerves, my mental approach, can be very solid in a difficult situation. I’ve learned that anything can happen. I did well this week and I had some good nerve against my opponent. I know what I have to do now to improve.”
Dubuisson, who in November won the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open where Tiger Woods and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose were also in the field, conjured two spectacular recovery shots on Sunday that fans watching will never forget.
On the 19th hole, the par-four first, he got up and down to save par from desert scrub over the back right of the green, hitting his third shot from behind a cactus, via sand, rocks and a television cable strung in front of him, to four feet.
One hole later, at the par-four ninth, he missed the green badly to the left with his approach, his ball ending up in a bush from where he amazingly hit his third to seven feet, prompting a wry smile from Day.
“I just play my shot 100 percent, like it was a playable shot, like I have nothing to lose,” Dubuisson said of his strategy.
“I battled as hard as I could at the end,” added the Frenchman, a brilliant amateur who turned professional after he missed the cut at the 2010 British Open following his only major start so far.
Day was astonished as anyone after watching Dubuisson’s two up-and-downs from seemingly impossible positions.
”Vic coming down the stretch was just unbelievable,“ the 26-year-old Australian 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 (to win). I‘m just so thankful to be here right now,” said the winner.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine