Sutherland claws his way to the top

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Should there be a golfing sequel to Brad Gilbert's pragmatic tennis manual Winning Ugly, Kevin Sutherland would be more than qualified to write it. Sutherland, the unlikely 62nd seed out of 64, won the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa by doing one thing beautifully: getting the ball in the hole. The "how" was only a cause for concern for the defeated finalist, Scott McCarron.

"I definitely played the better golf, but he won," McCarron said. "He was a rock out there making pars." Sutherland was wild off the tee but got the ball up and down at the right times and made the putts that mattered. McCarron was in a different class off the tee but did neither of the latter two things.

It was a classic matchplay confrontation and Sutherland's tenacity won the day, the margin just one hole over 36. It was the 37-year-old Sutherland's first win on tour and earned him $698,000 (£492,000). "This is phenomenal," he said. "Next to the majors the World Championships are right there. The quality of the field makes it more special."

Needless to say, Sutherland beat six players ranked above him, including the world No 3, David Duval, with birdies at the 17th and 18th before winning in extra holes. McCarron, who played high school golf against Sutherland in Sacramento in northern California, was the runner-up for the second week running.

"I can't explain it," he said. "To lose two in a row is brutal." Confidence, however, does not seem to be his problem, since he added: "I'm playing better than anyone in the world right now." But in matchplay there are no marks for technical merit or artistic impression.

Sutherland is noted for his iron-play rather than his driving and Sunday's final confirmed that assessment. Throughout the day he missed 17 fairways in 28 attempts. From the second to the 15th in the morning he hit not a single one. But at the par-three 11th, his finely struck tee-shot stopped just two feet away from the hole and he was able to level the match for the fifth time.

McCarron birdied the next to go ahead for the sixth time, but for the fourth time he relinquished it by his own hand. At both the short 14th and the par-four 15th, he missed the green, chipped poorly and took bogey.

So it was 33 holes into the final before Sutherland edged ahead but there he stayed, despite having to scramble from off the fairways. At the last he was in a greenside bunker but came out to two feet to force McCarron, who had put his approach to eight feet, to hole the putt to force extra holes. The putt hit the lip and stayed out.

McCarron uses a long putter, often the last refuge of those struggling to get the ball in the hole on the greens. Sutherland recently turned to the claw grip, a method in which the top hand is turned in the opposite direction to the orthodox grip. Chris DiMarco came to prominence at last year's Masters using the method and Mark Calcavecchia has also adopted it.

"I saw Chris and Calc were at the top of the putting stats and thought I'd try it in practice," Sutherland said. "I holed the first 10 putts but thought there was no way I could use it in a tournament. But then I missed a two-footer at Riviera and went to the claw and have not looked back."

As for his driving, Sutherland said: "I gave up on the fairway and just picked which side of the rough was easier to play from. I was lucky with some of the lies but when I play from the rough, I don't tend to get fliers so my distance control is OK. Perhaps that's why I am comfortable from the rough – I also get a lot of practice."