MARANA, Ariz. – If this is the final PGA Tour chapter for Done Mountain, eh ... Dove Mountain, give the isolated enclave style points for going out on a high note.
Situated squarely between the middle of nowhere and lost, the rugged layout has endured the slings and arrows of Mother Nature (it was the lone snow delay on the PGA Tour last year) and players (the track ranked 51st out of 52 courses on Tour in a 2013 player poll).
But on swan-song Sunday, gorgeous vistas combined with a global give and take between Australia’s Jason Day and aloof Frenchman Victor Dubuisson to send Dove Mountain into a fitting sunset.
As afternoon turned to dusk, Day and Dubuisson (pronounced dew-BWEE-shon) produced arguably the event’s most dramatic and entertaining finish, rounding 18 holes all square and lapsing into the longest final playoff in event history that ended on the 23rd hole with Day hoisting his second PGA Tour title.
Leading by three holes with six to play, Day closed his round in even par and Dubuisson forced overtime with a scrambling par at the last.
That’s when things got interesting.
Over the next two holes Dubuisson spent more time in the desert than General de Gaulle, punching out from under a jumping cholla - the official plant of the Match Play since the tournament moved to the Tucson area in 2007 - at the first extra frame to save par and then again on the second playoff hole when his approach settled into a patch of rocks and weeds.
“I was thinking, Why won’t this guy just go away?” said Day, who made it to the final four at the Match Play last year and went one better on Sunday when he beat Rickie Fowler, 3 and 2, in the semifinals. “I was doing everything to win the tournament and he just wouldn’t go away.”
The Frenchman matched Day shot for shot through the next two holes before his drive at the short par-4 15th hole sailed right and his chip failed to hold the green. Day converted his birdie putt from 4 feet to end the marathon.
Every bit the unknown commodity to American audiences, Dubuisson – who grew up in Cannes and now lives in Andorra, a tax haven between France and Spain – proved himself all at once relentless and ready for bigger and better things with his Match Play performance.
“They were both very, not unplayable, but I was thinking I had to play it hard,” Dubuisson said of his two desert adventures. “I just battled, especially on the back nine, and this week I learned a lot.”
As a consolation, Dubuisson – who defeated Ernie Els, 1 up, in the morning’s matinee and likely locked up his spot on this year’s European Ryder Cup team – earned a healthy amount of name recognition and a few more options.
His runner-up finish assured him of special temporary Tour status, and with more than $1 million in earnings already this year he’s virtually guaranteed full status for the 2014-15 season.
But it was great escapes under pressure, more so than his promising future, that impressed his peers and the press alike.
“Those may be the two best escape shots I've ever seen. Allez Victor,” tweeted Graeme McDowell, who did his own share of larceny at the Match Play.
Considering G-Mac’s Houdini-like run through the Match Play bracket, the Northern Irishman’s opinion was high praise.
McDowell allowed earlier in the week that “next Thursday (at the Honda Classic) starts my season proper.” Gary Woodland, Hideki Matsuyama and Hunter Mahan – who all lost to McDowell – would have preferred he start his literal campaign as well next week at PGA National.
As McDowell put it, “I'm not embarrassed, but I just feel like I'm robbing these guys.” Until he won the second hole in Round 4 against Dubuisson with an eagle, McDowell had not hit a tee shot with a lead all week, and he found himself 2 down through two holes in each of his first three matches, yet advanced to the quarterfinals.
But if McDowell’s magic ran out on Saturday when he lost to Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia seemed to make an investment in future karma a day earlier.
El Nino caused a stir on the seventh hole during his Sweet 16 match against Fowler when he invoked the “good, good?” clause with the American 18 feet away for par.
“My drop on No. 6 took too much time and I would not want to be in his position. I thought it was the best thing to do for the game and for me,” said Garcia, who lost the match by one hole.
For the last few years, Day hasn’t particularly enjoyed his position. The shine had slowly weathered away from his “world beater” status as he failed to follow up on his lone Tour tilt at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship.
His emotional victory in November at the World Cup back home in Australia helped quiet the critics, if not the internal dialogue.
“The best thing that’s happened to him was winning (the World Cup),” said Day’s caddie/swing coach Colin Swatton. “He was getting to the point where he was thinking, ‘When am I going to win again?’ It was good for him to get that.”
That confidence boost combined with his near-miss at last year’s Masters, fueled a much more intense offseason and a desire to stop being simply a good player who struggled to close out the big events.
“I’m going to be honest here,” said Day, who will vault to fourth in the world golf ranking, his highest position. “I came from a very poor family. It wasn’t winning I wanted. I wanted to make money to take care of my family, but it’s not about the money anymore. I want to win trophies.”
Even without three of the world’s top four players – Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson – a title sponsor or a future home, the last edition of the cactus Match Play was a show by any measure.
For eight years Dove Mountain has underwhelmed. But with one final mountain mea culpa the isolated layout delivered a memorable exit.