AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sam Burns won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on the 13th green, most appropriate for this unpredictable tournament because that’s where he thought he had lost it.
Some four hours earlier, Burns stood on that same green ready to remove his cap and congratulate defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who had a 4-foot birdie putt to win their semifinal match in overtime.
And then it all changed, quickly and dramatically, like so often in match play.
Scheffler missed. Burns birdied the next hole to win. And then Burns delivered a masterclass performance with eight birdies over his last 10 holes for a 6-and-5 victory over Cameron Young in the final edition of the Match Play.
“Crazy week,” Burns said.
Rory McIlroy was 2 up with three holes to play against Young in the semifinals when one swing (into a bunker) and one bad break (into the side collar of a bunker) and one missed putt (on the 19th hole) left him playing a consolation match.
Young went from one of the most satisfying rounds of his career to feeling helpless. He made a few mistakes in the championship match, but there was no stopping Burns and that silky putting stroke at Austin Country Club.
“I was a million under for the week,” Young said. “It’s really easy to think you’re so close. There’s only one guy standing between you and winning a tournament. But that one guy is Sam Burns playing really well.”
Indeed, the final edition of this wild and wacky tournament ultimately turned into a downer for just about everyone but Burns.
Burns went on a tear Sunday afternoon in the championship match, with just enough help from Young at the end for the second-largest margin of victory over 18 holes in match play.
Young had to settle for his sixth runner-up finish in the last two seasons on the PGA Tour, disappointed but not without perspective. With concessions, he was 41-under par for the week. There wasn’t much he could do against Burns.
“There might not have been anybody beating him today the way he played,” Young said.
The gallery, strong and loud and thoroughly entertained during the semifinals, thought they were going to get the world’s top two players in the final match of the final Match Play. That turned out to be only partially true. Burns was celebrating his fifth PGA Tour title as McIlroy and Scheffler played on. McIlroy won the consolation match, 2 and 1.
Burns went from 3 up to 2 down to 1 up playing the final hole against Scheffler until the No. 1 player in the world hit a beauty of a pitch-and-run up the slope to a back pin on the 18th for a birdie to send it to extra hole.
It was the first time in the 24-year history that both semifinal matches went overtime.
Scheffler was 4 feet away from becoming the first player in three straight title matches, and then he missed the short birdie putt on No. 13, their 20th hole.
“That’s the nature of this match play,” Burns said. “It’s one holed putt or missed putt away from winning or losing. He gave me a gift there on 13.”
Burns answered with a fairway bunker shot to 15 feet and a birdie putt to win.
He fell behind early, and briefly, against Young. Burns went 2 up on the seventh hole when Young missed a 6-foot par putt for his first bogey since the seventh hole on Thursday. Burns made a 20-foot birdie on the eighth to go 3 up, and he was on his way.
The end was anticlimactic. Young pulled his shot from rough into the water on the par-5 12th, and then he came up short of the green and into the water on the reachable par-4 13th.
Burns chipped to just inside 3 feet, and Young removed his cap without making him putt.
The highlight for Young was his semifinal win over McIlroy, who was in full flight for so much of the week. McIlroy was 2 up with three holes to play when Young won the 16th with a birdie and then hit a nifty pitch-and-run up the slope and his purest putt of the week.
On the first extra hole at the par-5 12th, Young was in such a bad spot in the bunker next to the lip that he could only blast out to 169 yards with McIlroy just over 200 yards for his second. Young hammered pitching wedge to 9 feet and made birdie. McIlroy played short and right of the green, chipped to just inside 9 feet and missed.
That was the kind of theater that graced Austin Country Club all week, particularly Sunday morning with the prospect of a McIlroy-Scheffler title match. Instead, it got a championship match that felt like a mismatch the way Burns was playing.
It was a flat ending to what has been 23 dynamic events of Match Play since the World Golf Championships began in 1999. Match Play was the first one, a 38-hole final won by Jeff Maggert at La Costa. That was a nail-biter. This was a rout.
Match Play will not be on the schedule in 2024 as the PGA Tour moves toward elevated events for the top 70 or so players, a response to the threat of Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
Burns moved to No. 10 in the world and collected $3.5 million from the $20 million purse. Young got $2.2 million for finishing second, though a trophy after so many close calls would seem to be invaluable.