Twenty-six-and-a-half holes into Sunday's Match Play final, Scott McCarron was in the driver's seat. Two up on Kevin Sutherland, he had smoked a drive on La Costa's par-5 9th hole and put himself in position to reach the green in two. Sutherland, meanwhile, was lying two in the right rough, stymied behind a tree. Then lightning struck. McCarron, swinging a driver off the deck, dumped his second shot into a tough lie short of the green. Sutherland, taking advantage of his extremely steep swing, used a pitching wedge to hit a low bullet that flew under the branches of the tree (above) and over a gaping greenside bunker before skidding to a stop eight feet from the hole. After McCarron missed a 14-footer for birdie, Sutherland drained his putt to win the hole. This reversal of fortune was the match's pivotal moment, and over the final nine Sutherland rode his flatstick to the winner's circle with a series of pressure-proof putts.
Heading into the Nissan Open two weeks ago, Sutherland ranked 145th in putting and out of sheer desperation tried the claw—the Tour's Band-Aid du jour—for the first time. "I made my first 10 putts and thought, Wow!" he says. First-timer's luck had given Sutherland an overly optimistic view of the claw, which led to a surge of confidence on the greens, but my feeling is this faddish putting grip is soon going to go the way of the macarena. For long-term putting success, Sutherland needs to master a shoulders-and-arms pendulum motion and ditch his tendency to make a wristy jab, which the claw can mask for only so long.
Including his final-hole defeat at the Nissan, McCarron has now finished second two weeks in a row, but the Match Play loss shouldn't sting as much as his fold in L.A. McCarron played solid golf throughout; Sutherland simply used a magical short game to steal the title from his childhood rival. "Kevin made mistakes all day, but was still making par," says McCarron. "He was an absolute buzz saw."
DRIVE FOR SHOW
McCarron wasn't exaggerating: Sutherland hit only 10 of 28 fairways. The problem? Sutherland's swing is a rock-and-block move that's way too steep. The golf club should be swung around your torso, but Sutherland's action is mostly up and down, which shuts the club face in the backswing. This means he can't square the face at impact unless his timing is perfect.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
Lesser lights dominate this tournament because the format encourages them to go for broke, while the same guys play more conservatively in stroke-play events, in which they're worried about making the cut and earning a decent check. The success of these unsung journeymen—like Sutherland, the 62nd seed—may be surprising, but as Curtis Strange said a million times last week, "That's match play."