Casey flexes muscles to conquer Furyk and transform from hate figure to hero

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The Independent Online

From hate figure to hero, it has been an epic journey for Paul Casey. After the euphoria of victory on his Ryder Cup debut at Oakland Hills two years ago, Casey's world fell apart. In the past two weeks, becoming the World Match Play champion and with his stunning exploits at the K Club, the Englishman has rebuilt his domain stronger than ever before.

In yesterday's singles he followed the lead of Colin Montgomerie at the top of the order and added Europe's second point of the day with a 2 and 1 victory over Jim Furyk. The American had never lost a Ryder Cup singles and by carrying the world No 1, Tiger Woods, over the first two days had proved himself a man of outstanding talent and character.

But so, too, has Casey. He claimed two nerve-shredding halves with Robert Karlsson in the fourballs and then, in the foursomes on Saturday afternoon, finished his match in the grand manner by holing in one at the 14th.

Against the world No 3 he continued in a similar vein. The 29-year-old birdied the first, four of the first seven and was four-up after eight. His strength, those Popeye forearms, and his fitness has allowed Casey's undoubted talent to be exhibited to the best advantage.

But there is also a strength of character to a player who has matured greatly in the past two years. Furyk was always going to respond and did so with birdies at the 10th and 11th holes. At the short 14th, where Casey needed only one blow on Saturday, he holed a 25-footer for a two but then saw Furyk follow him in for the half.

An eagle at the 16th, with an extraordinary putt across the green, brought the stony-faced Furyk back to two-down.

But when Casey holed for a birdie at the 17th one of America's finest had been humbled. In six Ryder Cup matches, Casey has lost only once, to Woods in the singles in 2004. "I played Tiger last time and lost but I thought Jim could be one of the toughest matches out here today," the Englishman said after Europe had sealed victory.

"It feels so good to win. I knew I needed a lot of birdies and I knew he would come back at me. But the atmosphere out here is wonderful, so loud, but friendly and quiet when we play."

Late in 2004 Casey gave an interview in which he talked about "properly hating the Americans" at the Ryder Cup. It was a clumsy expression and by the time he had been spat out by the media spin machine on its highest setting he was the villain of the piece in the United States.

To his credit he never denied making the comments, never said he was misquoted, although what he said and what became attributed to him were not the same thing. Inevitably it came up again this week and he quickly said he had made a mistake.

But the controversy, and a debilitating back injury, dogged him in 2005. Quietly, he tried to work on his game and his fitness as contemporaries like Luke Donald and David Howell swept past him towards the top of the world rankings.

His rewards have come in the past fortnight. After the semi-finals at Wentworth he was asked if he would prefer to win £1m or the Ryder Cup. He said the right thing, that there would hopefully be chances to win the cash again but there would only be one chance to be part of this team at the K Club.

But who was asking him to choose between the two? Why not both? The confident, some say arrogant, Casey might once have said so. Now he just went out and did it. After the ace on Saturday, his first in a tournament setting, he said it might prove an expensive moment.

"You can afford it," Paul McGinley quickly assured him, thinking of Casey's recent pay packet from Wentworth.

"Wentworth was very special and what we play is an individual sport," Casey said. "But what means more to me is this team. Every so often we get to bond as a team and come together. What you don't see behind closed doors in the evening is 12 players, and a lot of other people behind the scenes coming together as one big happy family. To go out there and accomplish what we set out to do is all the greater."

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