Graeme McDowell: Victor Dubuisson on Ryder Cuo course
Graeme McDowell came down from Dove Mountain $280,000 the richer and likely to make a million or two dollars more this year after finding a diamond cutting edge to his game at the Accenture Match Play.
McDowell's miraculous run at the Ritz-Carlton Club in the Arizona desert was brought to a conclusion by losing finalist Victor Dubuisson in Saturday's quarter-finals, when the 23-year-old Frenchman showed yet again what a phenomenal asset he'll be for Europe at September's Ryder Cup.
"This guy is the real deal," enthused European skipper and Sky TV pundit Paul McGinley. "Not only is he exceptionally skilled, Victor has shown he has got great mental fortitude."
Dubuisson performed some incredible rescue acts before succumbing to Jason Day on the fifth play-off hole in the final.
And McDowell was equally impressed. "Hats off to Victor," he said. "He's a great player and I'm hoping to be on the Ryder Cup team with him."
Looking back to the closing stages of a match in which he went one-down to Dubuisson after uncharacteristically missing a modest putt on 16, McDowell was blown away by two masterful shots his opponent played to maintain his advantage at 17 and 18.
"Victor's short game was very, very good, especially coming down the stretch," said McDowell. "At 17, I definitely had the better of the two lies but he played a fantastic pitch shot there and the one from the swail in front of the green at 18, what a great touch that was. He's got that little bit of European flair. He's the first really exciting player that France has produced in a few years."
Dubuisson leapt into the world's elite top 50 in October when he saw off Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and a world-class field to win the Turkish Open.
The key to his success in Tucson, where he was bidding to become the first French golfer to win on the US Tour or a World Golf Championship event, was Dubuisson's remarkable focus.
However, the challenge of Jason Day – who beat Rickie Fowler 3&2 in the other semi-final – eventually proved beyond Dubuisson. The Australian took an early lead and was three up by the time they reached the 10th tee.
But on the back nine, Dubuisson's incredible tenacity shone through and a fine birdie at the 17th left him just one down. Day then missed a 10-foot par putt on the 18th and his opponent holed out from five feet to extend the match.
The sudden death shoot-out saw some extraordinary recovery shots from the Frenchman, but on the 23rd his luck finally ran out as a birdie from Day saw him secure the title. Yet, just by reaching this final, Dubuisson fulfilled his lifetime ambition, clinching his PGA Tour credentials after just four appearances in his first US expedition.
Though his charmed campaign was cut short on Saturday, McDowell heads to this week's Honda Classic with his confidence soaring. After Houdini-like escapes to victory against Gary Woodland, Hideki Matsuyama and Hunter Mahan, McDowell's luck ran out.
"It all boiled down to my putter," McDowell said. "It actually let me down. I'd a chance on 14 for the hole, another on 15 for the hole, then missed a short one on 16. Yet my luck was bound to run out sooner than later.
"Still, it's been a great week for me. I was looking for a good workout in only my second event of the year and I certainly got that."
He views Thursday's first round at the Honda Classic as the de-facto start to his season following an impressive top-10 finish at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he played the first 54 holes with his dad, and four great days in the match play.
"Reaching the quarter-final here last year helped produce a great spring for me because I took great confidence from the event. It's just a great way to see where your game is under pressure," explained McDowell.