CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Not even the best player from Sacramento, Kevin Sutherland completed an amazing journey Sunday to win the first World Golf Championship of the year.
In a 36-hole match that had more at stake than just hometown bragging rights, Sutherland compensated for wild tee shots with clutch putting to beat childhood friend Scott McCarron 1-up in the Match Play Championship.
The last match they played was the San Joaquin Sectionals in high school 20 years ago, which Sutherland came back to win.
The only thing different about this match was the payoff - $1 million for Sutherland, who became the first player to make a WGC event his first career victory.
Sutherland, at No. 62, became the highest seed to win in the four-year history of the event.
It looked like the match would go extra holes when Sutherland missed his 18th fairway of the final round and put his approach into the bunker. He blasted out to within a foot, but McCarron had an 8-foot putt to extend the match.
His putt caught the left lip, and he turned away in shock.
It was the second straight week that McCarron's long-handled putter let him down with the tournament on the line. At Riviera, he missed 6-foot putts on each of the last three holes to finish one stroke behind in the Nissan Open.
This one hurt even more.
McCarron never trailed until the 33rd hole against a guy who hit only 10 fairways at La Costa Resort. The lasting image of Sutherland was hitting out of the rough, then squinting through the trees to see where the ball went.
No matter. The most important club in match play is the putter, and Sutherland made everything that mattered.
He holed 5-foot putts - the most dangerous on the bumpy, poa annua greens - on three straight holes to go from 1-down to 1-up. Once he had the lead, he never gave it back.
McCarron earned $550,000 in his first WGC event.
Brad Faxon won the consolation match and $450,000 when Paul Azinger bogeyed the 18th hole, then made bogey on the first extra hole. Azinger earned $360,000.
So ended another unpredictable week at the Accenture Match Play Championship, the fickle tournament where nothing is ever as it seems.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval were eliminated after the first round, and the rest of the top seeds soon joined them.
Sutherland figured he would have been home by now, too, especially since he was 2-down with two holes to play against Duval in the opening round Wednesday. He squeezed out a win in 20 holes, and cruised into the finals.
Sutherland had trailed in only 11 out of 86 holes going into the final round, but found himself behind throughout most of a gorgeous, sunny day in north San Diego County.
Even with $1 million on the line, and the prestige of a World Golf Championship trophy, it looked like a couple of friends playing a friendly match on a gorgeous Sunday. The banter was light and easy, typical of two guys who have played golf with each other for longer than they can remember.
Sutherland fought his swing early on, missing eight consecutive fairways.
After he pulled his drive into the rough on No. 13, McCarron said to him, "Are you ever going to hit a fairway?" He playfully slugged Sutherland in the arm, and both players started laughing.
"I know we played a match in high school," Sutherland replied. "I feel like I'm still in high school right now."
Through all the small talk, the match was close from start to finish.
Even though Sutherland trailed throughout the morning round, he never went more than two holes before squaring the match. McCarron went 1-up with a short birdie on the 17th, then gave it right back by missing the green to the right on No. 18.
It became an 18-hole shootout, just like the previous five rounds, and McCarron figured to have the edge when he took a 2-up lead on two occasions. It looked as though he would expand that lead on the par-5 ninth, when he was positioned perfectly to go for the green in two while Sutherland - surprise - was in the rough.
Sutherland went from behind a tree to the cart path, in deep rough blocked by a smaller tree. He punched it low and pure, and the ball checked up 5 feet from the cup for a birdie. McCarron missed the green left, pitched to 12 feet and had to settle for par.
That's how it went the rest of the round - every time Sutherland looked to be in trouble, he managed to halve the hole.
McCarron kept a photo of that loss in high school, which showed Sutherland and his skinny legs in a pair of unsightly shorts. He sent it to him when Sutherland finally got to the PGA Tour a year after McCarron.
That picture surely will be replaced by one showing Sutherland holding the Match Play Championship trophy and an oversized check for $1 million.
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