Day holds off Dubuisson to win epic Match Play

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2014, 12:41 am

Jason Day has long been viewed as one of the PGA Tour’s supremely talented players – a powerful, driven 20-something who had forged a solid start to his career, and tantalized peers and observers with his potential, but ultimately had few big-time titles to show for it. 

Five days in the desert changed that narrative – barely.

The 26-year-old Australian captured his first World Golf Championship event Sunday at Dove Mountain, where he squandered a late 2-up lead, withstood a few all-world short-game shots from Victor Dubuisson and held on to win an epic Match Play Championship final in 23 holes. It was the first time that the Match Play final has gone into overtime since the inaugural event in 1999, and the longest-ever final match.

“Obviously I didn’t want it to go this long, but Vic, man, he has a lot of guts,” said Day, who earned $1.53 million for winning the five-day, six-round event.

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This one sure didn’t start out like an instant classic, with Day winning Nos. 6, 7 and 9 to take a 3-up lead into the back nine. And it sure seemed like it would be Day’s week when he nearly holed his third shot (from 269 yards) on the par-5 11th. But he watched as Dubuisson began chipping away at the advantage, first by winning the 13th with birdie, then by sinking a must-make 10-footer on 17.

Then came the dramatics.

Day three-putted the final green for bogey, while Dubuisson made a dazzling up-and-down from the greenside bunker to push the match into overtime. 

On the first extra hole – the par-4 first – Dubuisson launched his approach into the desert behind the green, his ball settling near a jumping cactus and behind a TV cable. Somehow, he slashed out to 5 feet for the halve. 

It seemed like the match would end on the next hole, only Dubuisson had other ideas. Just like in regulation, his approach into the par-4 ninth tumbled into the desert left of the green. This time, he straddled a cactus and hacked out to 7 feet. Watching from behind the green, Day could only shake his head and laugh. Of course Dubuisson buried the putt to extend the match. 

After halving the next two holes, the players headed to the drivable 15th. After sending his drive right of the green, Dubuisson couldn’t get his flop shot anywhere near the hole, sending it to the back of the green, about 30 feet away. With a slightly better angle, and from the intermediate rough, Day was able to chip to 3 feet and make birdie – his first won hole since No. 9.  

Dubuisson, vying to become the first player to win in his WGC debut, was a relative unknown to many in the U.S., but he showed his match-play chops by knocking off Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Els en route to the finals.

The 23-year-old Frenchman pocketed $906,000 for runner-up honors and should move inside the top 25 in the world rankings. What’s more, his star-making finals appearance here would seem to make European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley’s decision that much easier.

“You’re going to see a lot of him for years to come,” Day said of the former No. 1-ranked amateur. 

As for Day, it has been 45 months since he broke through at the 2010 Nelson. Just 22 at the time, he seemed poised to add to his victory haul in a hurry. It didn’t quite pan out that way, however, as Day battled a nagging wrist injury and started a family with wife Ellie.

Though winless on Tour since 2010, Day recorded a victory last December at the World Cup – not an official Tour event – and in recent years has become one of the most consistent performers in the majors. Since 2011, he has five top 10s in golf’s biggest events, including a pair of top 3s in 2013 (led Masters with four holes to play).

Now, the former wunderkind – in 2007, at age 19, he won on the Tour – is expected to move to No. 4 in the world rankings. He finally has another title to go with all that promise, and a hard-fought WGC at that.  

“The biggest thing was how much do I want it,” Day said. “I kept saying that to myself last night. I’m glad I could finish it off, but it was a close one.”

Meanwhile, in the consolation match, Rickie Fowler birdied the first extra hole to defeat Ernie Els and grab solo third, netting him $630,000. Els took home $510,000.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

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Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

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“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

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Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

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Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”