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How Victor Dubuisson stole the show from Jason Day at the Match Play Championship

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Day survives the magic of Dubuisson in Match Play
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Victor Dubuisson nearly hit a photographer during one of his wily saves. (AP)

Poor Jason Day. The guy wins the biggest tournament of his career, the guy cements himself, at age 26, as one of golf's great young players, the guy is the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play champ after an epic, sprawling, knockdown, drag-out 23-hole match, and all anybody can talk about is Victor Dubuisson.

Heck, even Day was talking about Victor Dubuisson. Right after Day finally held off the never-say-die Frenchman, his first words to CBS were: "Victor has a lot of guts … a lot of people knew he was the No. 1 world amateur in 2009, but for a 23-year-old, he's got a lot of game … you're going to see a lot of him for years to come."

Everybody wants to talk Dubuisson.

First off, it's just fun to say. Vic-tor Doo-bwee-sohn … say it in your French accent, and it's even more fun. Veec-tor Dooo-bweee-sohnnnnnn …

That's part of Dubuisson's appeal, no doubt. He's French. All anybody thinks about in terms of French golf is one man, the anti-Dubuisson, and that's Jean van de Velde. If Van de Velde set back the reputation of French golf for decades with his colossal collapse at Carnoustie in 1999, Dubuisson has single-handedly changed its image. Now, when we think of French golf, we think of a young stud with a D'Artagnan mustache/chin beard, possessing an expressionless cool not unlike a Gallic Clint Eastwood, hair like a Bee Gee, and the craziest short game saves you ever saw.

By now, most all of you have absorbed Dubuisson's par saves on both the 19th and 20th holes in his championship match against Day, and you're still searching for explanations. How does a youngster with one career win — granted, the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open last November featured a field with Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, among many others — summon the cajones to wade into cactus-laden Arizona desert, look at a scenario with zero options, and hit two of the greatest recovery shots a golf mind can conceive under those circumstances? Plus, he never once got stabbed by a jumping cholla cactus, either. That's golfing your ball.

The golf world was gushing. 'Cajones' wasn't even my word — it was Gary Player's. He was one of the many tweeting out applications for the Victor Dubuisson Fan Club.


Graeme McDowell, one of three major champions gored by the musketeer's rapier at Dove Mountain (Bubba Watson and Ernie Els were the others), tweeted with thoughts of international competition this autumn:


Dubuisson was an international sensation, and Matteo Manassero tweeted in Italian: "Ohhhhh Victorino!!! sei uno spettacolo."

I'm no Fellini, but I think that's an admiring tweet.

You can see even Player and McDowell wanted to speak the language of love. Dubuisson's country of origin is not common in the world of golf, all due respect to your Thomas Levets and your Gregory Havrets. His Frenchness had American golf fans so desperate for French cultural allusions to connect with the new star, one shouted out 'LES MISERABLES!' when he struck a putt in extra holes. It made no sense whatsoever, but that's the effect Dubuisson had on the masses. Ace AP golf writer Doug Ferguson suggested 'Cirque du Soleil' was more appropriate, given the nature of Dubuisson's comeback from 3-down with seven holes to play, and the two par saves from the rocks and snakes and cacti that had even Day shaking his head and laughing. I liked the 'Cirque du Soleil' line, and suggested somebody run it out to the gallery before the gallery started choking and shouting out random things like 'PERRIER!' and 'COQ AU VIN!' with no context.

Let's prefer to think of Dubuisson's thought bubble after his ice-cold par saves from an almost literal Death Valley this way: "How do you like them pommes?"

The legend of Dubuisson started even in the morning semifinal, when he came from 3-down to beat sentimental favorite Ernie Els, a player at 44 almost twice Dubuisson's age. Immediately after the match, won 1-up with a par on the 18th hole to Ernie's disappointing bogey, Dubuisson discarded all pretense of cliche in his post-match interview on The Golf Channel. He was open, and said he only slept one hour on Saturday night, so nervous was he for the showdown with Els.

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Jason Day celebrates after finally winning the Match Play Championship on the 23rd hole. (AP)



"I woke up, and realized I was playing Ernie Els," Dubuission said, citing Els and Tiger as his all-time favorite players.

He went on to say in his broken English: "On the first tee, I shake the hand of Ernie Els … I was not feeling too comfortable. I was very impressed to be standing next to him. I was thinking of all the majors he's won. I wasn't feeling too comfortable."

A world-class player admitting nerves and awe and idolatry and sleep deprivation will humanize him with golf fans in a hurry.

The crash course in "Who-Is-Victor-Dubuisson?" came fast and furious all day from the broadcast. We learned he was ranked a fairly lofty No. 30 in the world entering Dove Mountain. We learned about the Turkish Airlines Open win over that star-studded field. We learned about his three made cuts on the PGA Tour this year, including a tie-13th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a final-round 69 at Pebble. We learned he had an uncle who was a star basketball player in France. We learned he left school at an early age to pursue his golf career, that he was the second-youngest player (behind Rory McIlroy) to reach the Match Play final, that his European amateur golf credentials were strong, having won the 2009 European Amateur, an event won by the likes of Rory and Sergio Garcia.

Mostly, we couldn't get enough of this big-hitting (averages 305 yards off the tee on the European Tour), par-saving, red slack-wearing customer. Go ahead, dust off all your French go-tos — Sacre Bleu! Mon Dieu! Pepe Le Pew! — because the more Victor Dubuisson we get on the golf course, the better our golf lives will be. He has enough FedEx Cup points now to earn 'Special Temporary Member' status and can play an unlimited amount of sponsor exemptions, but isn't guaranteed entry to every tournament. He is guaranteed a spot at the Masters. It gets complicated figuring out how much golf Dubuisson will play in the States this year though. Time will tell.

In the meantime, most of us already want to replay that magical Dove Mountain match in our mind.

Guess that means we want a Dubuisson deja vu.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

Jason Day d. Victor Dubuisson, 1-up, 23 holes, World Golf Championships Acccenture Match Play Championship, The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Marana, AZ.

And now, a word about our winner.

Jason Day was making PGA Tour cuts as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2006, so it's no wonder we feel like: a) he's been around forever; b) he's older than he is; and c) his career should have more wins than it does.

Then you realize: Day is 26, and now has two PGA Tour wins, the 2010 Byron Nelson and the 2014 WGC Accenture Match Play, in one of the more legendary matches, to boot. He's the youngest player ever to win the Accenture Match Play. He's ranked No. 4 in the world(!), and has runners-up at three majors already, the 2011 Masters, the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2013 U.S. Open. Most notably, he had the lead at Augusta National last spring with three holes to play, then bogeyed 16 and 17 and had to watch countryman Adam Scott become the first Aussie to win the Masters and achieve eternal lore Down Under.

So Day's career, while notable and laudable, has its share of near-misses, too. That's why Dubuisson's ridiculous charges at Day all through the back nine, and then his intergalactic up-and-downs, threatened to add another layer of scar tissue to Day. Dare we say the heartbreak would take on junior-junior-junior shades of his countryman Greg Norman's career?

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Jason Day (R) shakes hands with Victor Dubuisson after their showdown. (AP)

That's why his nervy birdie on the 23rd hole, framed by a delicious flop shot from a sidehill lie to a tight flagstick, was so important. He got the win, he repelled Dubuisson, and he can stride forward into majors season with a pelt on his wall, instead of doubt in the dark corners of his golf mind. It's already been an emotional last few months for Day, who lost several relatives, including a grandmother, to the horrific typhoon that hit the Philippines, his ancestral homeland. No doubt his thoughts migrated that way late Sunday night.

He said the nature of Match Play made every match feel like Sunday, and "that's a good way to learn to handle your nerves, to understand what you're feeling under the pump."

Most important, he admitted the win meant more than just a check for $1.5 million.

"The biggest thing was, how much do I want it?" he said after the round. "How much do I want to win? I kept saying that to myself last night. I visualized myself with the trophy . . . I never wanted anything so bad in my life."

Like Dubuisson, refreshing candor from a player. Like Dubuisson, he's appealing and leaves us wanting more.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"Seven-time World Match Play champ back in England . . . don't mess with Big Ernie." — Nick Faldo, The Golf Channel, after Els made a long birdie on the 16th hole to square the match with Dubuisson.

To be honest, we could have used any of the exclamations of disbelief from the gobsmacked broadcasters at CBS who witnessed Dubuisson's two par saves from the seventh level of hell. Like, for example, Gary McCord saying: "I have a very rare picture at home of Houdini locking his keys out of his pickup truck, but a picture of those last two up and downs usurps that." But that's too easy for Broadcast Moment of the Week.

Let's instead focus on the plight of Els, whose run to the semifinals was the feel-good story of the tournament. There are few who don't root for The Big Easy, given his mesmerizing swing rhythm, his surprisingly soft hands for a big man, and his laid-back South African cool. But after Els stunned everyone with his back-door Open Championship in 2012 at Royal Lytham, many felt it was Els' last hurrah. He was 42 when he kissed the Claret Jug, and his putting stroke did not appear to be improving anytime soon.

In fact, since that fourth major championship, Els has played 31 PGA Tour events, and has only notched two top-10s. While he did win the 2013 European Tour BMW International, it appeared more of a one-off than a trend. The Big Easy looked to be riding off into the big sunset.

And then came Dove Mountain. Els went extra holes to beat Stephen Gallacher in round one, then took overtime again to beat back Justin Rose, followed by another win over another 2013 major champ, Jason Dufner. He took out 20-year-old Jordan Spieth in a classic young bull/old bull showdown, and proved his veteran savvy by staying calm when Spieth let his nerves get the best of him (an increasing storyline for the talented Texan, by the way.)

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Does Ernie Els have any magic left for Augusta? (USA Today)

So Els vs. Dubuisson in the semifinals was fun golf, and when Els made that long putt on 16 and Faldo gave his admiring take, you took a moment to realize: Not only can Ernie Els still play world-class golf, he's got a shot to win this thing. Morever, it raised the hopes of Els fans everywhere that Els has enough magic in those old bones to make the run at what everyone is thinking of, another major.

He is missing the Masters and the PGA championship from his Grand Slam quiver, and given his many fine finishes at Augusta National — most notably the one-stroke heartbreak of 2004 — he becomes another name to relish come early April amid the pines.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

This one's easy.

What Dubuisson did on both the 19th and 20th holes was enough to earn him the new nickname 'The Desert Fox', even though he's French, and Rommel, the original 'Desert Fox' was German, and that brings up all kinds of uncomfortable European history. Still, it's just a nickname, right?

Moreover, what Dubuisson did on the 19th and 20th holes was so remarkable, we should all make him do it again.

So, in honor of Jason Day's flabbergasted headshake and laugh, in honor of Jason Day's no-he-did-NOT match play fate, in honor of every time you've been in a match and watched your opponent reach deep into his nether regions and pull out a bouquet of roses, let's go back out to those two cactus/desert/rocky/rattlesnakey lies, drop Dubuisson two golf balls, and let Jason Day say loud and clear: "Do it again, Frenchman . . . and give that man a mulligan!"

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Adieu, as our new friend Vic Dubuisson might say, to the western half of the United States, and bon jour, as our new friend Vic Dubuisson also might say, to the Florida Swing.

The Honda Classic starts Thursday, and it's as if the world's best want to stick their tongue out at the West Coast. That means Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy comprise what LeBron James might call the "Mount Rushmore of Fields." If it sounds unusual to see Lefty at PGA National, it's because it is — he's never played there.

Alas, no Victor Dubuisson. It is with a heavy coeur that we report that.

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