One would not expect straightforward access to a golf club whose only members happen to be Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Colin Montgomerie and so it proved for Paul Casey here yesterday. In winning a vintage BMW PGA Championship, Casey became just the fifth Briton to enter the world's top three since the ranking system began four decades ago.
However, to say it was hard-earned would be criminally undervaluing his triumph. Once again the 31-year-old let slip a sizeable lead before launching a courageous fightback of his own. Ross Fisher pushed him every inch of the Burma Road with a magical 64. Fisher's brilliance set up one of the classic English duels of recent times, in which Casey (right) eventually prevailed on the final green with a nerveless five-footer for a birdie. His relief on collecting the £667,000 first prize was as obvious as it was understandable.
"It was not an easy putt but then any putt to win a golf tournament isn't easy, particularly at an event as big as this," said Casey, who also joined another exclusive band in Faldo, Montgomerie, Woosnam and Seve Ballesteros in completing the "Wentworth double" of the World Match Play and PGA. "I didn't look at the scoreboard until the back nine and then saw that Ross was having an incredible round. I knew then I had to grind it out. I did and this feels great."
Casey began the final round three clear of his nearest challenger, Soren Kjelsen – who finished third – and five ahead of Fisher. But within 11 holes and just over two hours, Casey had seen his compatriot not only peg him back but seemingly also pin him down by forging one clear. It did not look good for Casey. Fisher had stormed through his first 12 holes in six-under and was playing like a man with something to prove. Indeed, Fisher has much to thank Wentworth for, the local lad having received his golfing education here courtesy of a scholarship scheme. "I owe this place so much and so wanted to do it," he said.
It was not to be, but that had nothing to do with any failing on Fisher's part and everything to do with the iron resolve of Casey. While his play early on yesterday was discernibly twitchy, he summoned the spirit to play the last five holes in three-under. If the sand-save on the 18th bore the hallmarks of a true champion, then so too did the seven-footer for birdie on the 17th. His finish had taken some gumption, considering that the red-hot Casey of the previous two days had strangely struggled on this inviting climax. And then, of course, there were the whispers to forget, which have followed Casey ever since his knees first showed a penchant for trembling.
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 Trevor Immelman's lead at Augusta last year after three holes on the last day and then dropped six in the next five holes. Then there was Abu Dhabi in January when he was six clear with seven to go – and at last won by one. No, it never is uncomplicated for Casey even when it probably should be.
To be fair that was not one of these occasions as Fisher's form was little short of mesmeric. To withstand the charge, Casey was forced to show his class and that he was able to bodes so well for the forthcoming majors. Only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are rated better in the rankings now and although some eyebrows will be raised at the truth of all that, nobody can argue with Casey's remarkable start to 2009. On January 1, he was 41st in the world. Since then he has won three titles, including his first in America. Rarefied heights, indeed.
*Colin Montgomerie will not be appearing at this year's US Open after last night pulling out of today's 36-hole qualifying event at Walton Heath. The Scot, who has finished second in the US Open three times, shot a final-round 76 at Wentworth yesterday.