Casey beats bad habit to triumph

Englishman stumbles down the stretch again but survives to end win drought
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The Independent Online

The Abu Dhabi royal family may be handing over bigger cheques in the next week or so, but none will be any more gratefully received than the £220,000 which Paul Casey picked up here yesterday. The typically grandiose Falcon Trophy was the Englishman's first title since he won this same tournament two years ago but he so nearly threw it away in a torrid finale. Standing on the 11th tee, Casey was six clear. Standing on the 16th tee, he was one clear. In the intervening hour, he had been transformed from a figure marching along like Lawrence of Arabia to one stumbling in the desert like Stan Laurel. When he tapped in for his fifth birdie of the afternoon on the 10th, Casey had dropped just two shots in 65 holes. Three went in the next four. And when he three-putted from six feet on the 13th the collapse was very much on.

Fortunately for all the expats in attendance, and indeed for anyone with a nervous disposition, this golfer with all the talent but not yet the résumé to match, managed to steady himself sufficiently over those final three holes for a 70 to record a one-shot win from Louis Oosthuizen and the defending champion Martin Kaymer. It was the first-named of these rivals who added most of the tingle to the proceedings and the South African will surely long wonder how a final-round 64 for a 20-under total was not good enough on a course measuring 7,500 yards. The answer was because of Casey's excellence all week, as well as a tip the 31-year-old picked up from Trevor Immelman at an eve-of-event dinner

Casey admitted he did not know his lead was so slender when he peered down the 16th fairway. "It would have been scary if I had," he said. Indeed, it would very likely have been calamitous. Casey has previous when it comes to withering in the heat of battle. To Anthony Wall he even has something of a problem. "I always feel that Paul Casey will fritter shots," said the Londoner, who finished fourth. "He always seems to like to give people a chance going down the last nine. I don't know if he switches off because he is five or six ahead. It shouldn't happen but it does seem to. Regularly." Fair? Probably, but it's never advisable to criticise a fellow professional, no matter how damning the evidence.

At the 2004 Wales Open, Casey was four ahead with seven remaining and lost to Simon Khan, while at the 2006 British Masters he was again four clear of the eventual winner, Johan Edfors, with eight left. More recently he was within one of Immelman's lead at Augusta last year after three holes on the last day and then dropped six in the next five holes. On each occasion Casey had continually looked up at the leader board and seen his week going up in Sunday smoke. Thanks to Immelman, this time around he did not dare look. "Trevor mentioned when he was up on stage that he had not looked up at the scoreboards at Augusta and that he had not asked his caddie how far he was ahead until he was walking towards the green on the 18th," said Casey. "His caddie told him he was three clear. That must be a great feeling. I took a leaf out of a major champion's book."

There have been other alterations, too, that helped to claim, as he put it, "the most satisfying of my nine wins so far". For starters, Casey was married at the beginning of December. "It shows marriage is clearly good for me," he laughed. Then there was the winning mentality. "I'm now approaching each event with equal importance," he said. "Maybe, the last two years I've focused too much on the majors." Casey has borrowed this particular mindset from Tiger Woods.

Of course, Casey has an awful long way to go before any emulation of Woods becomes replication, but at least he is now back on the brink of the world's top 20 having laboured perilously close to that all-important 50 mark. "It's great to be going back in the right direction," he said.

Also rapidly heading towards the elite is Rory McIlroy. A final-round 65 by the 19-year-old gave him his third top-five finish out of his last four tournaments. McIlroy is up to the mid-30s in the rankings and making staggering progress.

Colin Montgomerie was back in the pack on eight-under, which was no disastrous start to the year considering his dire 2008. Afterwards, the Scot refused to discuss Casey, a player he has spoken of with admiration. Apparently, Monty thought it would not be appropriate for him to talk about other players. Further indication that his appointment as the next Ryder Cup captain is just nine days away.