WGC-Cadillac Championship: Victor Dubuisson's desert adventure alerts America to the 'new Seve'
Enigmatic young Frenchman's shots at Tucson draw comparisons with Spanish legend
An apology up front for re-inforcing national stereotypes, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that America received a crash course in enigmatic Frenchmen with the appearance of Victor Dubuisson here at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
The 23-year-old is very much the international man of mystery in the United States following his Match Play heroics at Tucson a fortnight ago when his miraculous escapes in the final against Jason Day drew comparisons with Seve Ballesteros.
Dubuisson, who has been paired with Luke Donald here, briefly entered the American consciousness with his victory at the Turkish Airlines Open last November, in a field that included Tiger Woods. The idea that a special talent might be among them was reinforced when he made the cut at each of the three California swing events during his first professional engagements on the PGA Tour.
The chip shots from fiery scrub that kept him in the game for longer than it should against Day confirmed it. Dubuisson's all-but-guaranteed selection for the Ryder Cup in September was just the prompting reporters needed to probe further the man from Cannes. It is fair to say they emerged from the news conference little wiser.
Dubuisson is a complicated figure, reluctant to speak about his personal life, particularly his youth, when he was taken out of formal schooling at some point between the ages of 10 and 12 – he is vague about the details. Attempts to probe the facts are met with a polite refusal to speak about that part of his life.
Conversely this was the period during which his imagination was fired, initially by watching a 21-year-old Tiger rip up the script at the 1997 Masters. Dubuisson is happy to pick his way through that week with a scalpel, but about his own experience at the time, there is nothing he wants to say.
He does have a sponsor and mentor, however, in Thomas Levet, who was as close to a national role model as French golf offered. "He is passionate about his golf," Levet said of Dubuisson. "He loves the sport and is a very, very good player. Anybody who hits it more than 300 yards and has a short game like his will do well. He certainly has the game to win a major. I told him that if I could get close with my game, he can go all the way."
As Levet pointed out, France is desperate for a hero to raise the profile of the game. "The problem we have is only 420,000 people play the game in France. The clubs are full but that's because we don't have enough. If Victor could win a major it would be like what Seve did in Spain in the Seventies. There were about 50,000 golfers in Spain before Seve came along, afterwards there were 600,000 in no time."
The Seve label is a lot to hang on a young man's shoulders. Perhaps it is just as well he does not say too much. Interestingly he was quick to ascribe a chunk of good fortune to the chipped escapes. The shots he remembered most from the final owed everything to execution and nothing to luck.
"For me, the best shot I did was the 17th, a shot from the bunker, like 185 yards or 190. Those two shots from the desert, one in from the desert and one in from the rocks, it was an incredible shot, but it was not 100 per cent in my control. And this shot on 17 and the bunker shot on 18, they were. That's the shot I will more remember, because I knew I had to make birdie on 17."
His run to the final was enough to earn him his PGA Tour card for this season, which was the goal Dubuisson set himself after his victory in Turkey, a performance that alerted the senior European players in the field that week to his potential.
Justin Rose, back after a week off to rehab the slight tendon injury in his right shoulder, believes Europe have acquired a player of genuine substance at Gleneagles. "He showed his true colours at the back end of last year. He showed a lot of us that he can really play hard. Over here it's been a big breakout for him on the PGA Tour, and to make a big cheque opens up all sorts of possibilities for him."
Rose is a month away from full fitness. Though the injured shoulder requires management he is through the worst and claims he is ready to contend this week as he seeks that first win since his US Open victory in June.
"I believe I can go out this week and win. I've seen enough good things on the range and putting green, but there is no substitute for competitive sharpness, so that's all I'm lacking right now," said Rose.
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