‘What a week’: Sam Burns storms through field, wins Match Play
AUSTIN, Texas — The final hours of the last WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play turned into a dud for everyone but Sam Burns.
Burns went on a tear Sunday afternoon in the championship match with eight birdies on his final 10 holes and enough help from Cameron Young for a 6-and-5 victory. It was the second-largest margin in an 18-hole match in this tournament.
Burns won for the fifth time on the PGA Tour. Young, who had a late rally with clutch birdies to eliminate Rory McIlroy in the semifinals, had to settle for his sixth runner-up finish in the past 18 months.
“What a week,” Burns said. “I’m so tired.”
Burns made it to the championship match Sunday afternoon only when defending champion Scottie Scheffler missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 20th hole of their semifinal match. Given new life, Burns made birdie from a fairway bunker with a 15-foot putt to advance.
Young had an early lead. Burns squared the match on the fifth hole and took the lead with a chip-and-putt birdie on the par-5 sixth. And then on the next hole, Young missed a 6-foot par putt to fall 2-down. It was his first bogey since the seventh hole Thursday.
All the momentum Young had built up over the week seemed to vanish. And the silky putting stroke of Burns was never better.
He holed a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 8. He made a 12-footer on No. 10 to go 4-up. He birdied the 11th hole from 25 feet — Young made his from 20 to halve the hole — and then it ended so abruptly.
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.
“It’s easy to think you’re so close,” Young said. “There’s one guy standing between you and winning the tournament. And that one guy is Sam Burns playing really well.”
The highlight 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 blast out to only 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. Scheffler was trying to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners, and he had a 2-up lead over Burns through 10 holes.
Burns rallied back against his best friend on tour, and Scheffler had to get up-and-down from short of the 18th green for birdie to force overtime. He had it won on the second extra hole at No. 13 — except he missed the putt — and Burns escaped.
“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 in the championship match was close to unbeatable.
“There might not have been anybody beating him today the way he played,” Young said.
McIlroy and Scheffler wound up in the consolation match, which McIlroy won 2 and 1. That gave the thin crowd something to watch when Burns ended the title match early. Scheffler played four years for the Longhorns. McIlroy is popular everywhere.
And while that was going on, the Longhorns were on TV trying to get to the Final Four in a game they ultimately lost to Miami.
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 from Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
Burns, who made 40 birdies for the week, 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.