In winning the HSBC World Match Play in record fashion Paul Casey made risible any worries that a succession of long 36-holes matches this week could hamper European chances at the wildly anticipated Ryder Cup. A combination of fine play and remarkable fitness made certain Casey will head to the K Club not just with a cheque for £1m but with his confidence sky high.
The 29-year-old Englishman tends to be a mood player and with his tail up, as this week, he is a proven winner. He defeated three major champions, plus Colin Montgomerie, over four outstanding days, none of which lasted longer than the 15th hole in the afternoon.
Yesterday's final was his shortest match as he defeated Shaun Micheel 10 and 8. It was a record for the final, better than Nick Faldo's 8 and 7 drubbing of Jeff Sluman in 1992, and when presented with a chance to go for a quick kill Casey did so, winning the last five holes.
His total of 124 holes for the four days' work was also the most efficient progression of any champion. "I felt tired on Saturday morning but right now I'm fine," Casey said. "My fitness helped this week. Physically I was able to do what I wanted to do in controlling the ball and that helped me stay mentally sharp.
"I'm really looking forward to next week and this was good preparation in terms of matchplay and coping with the long days. I can go five times if necessary but I'm just there to do whatever I'm asked." Casey suggested the victory would not change how he felt about himself for the Ryder Cup but might change how others looked at him, in both team rooms. This victory puts him top of the European Order of Merit.
"This is the biggest win of my career, not just financially but in terms of putting myself on a roll of honour with the names on this trophy," he added. "It is all about belief that you should be in this position and capable of winning world-class events. Luke Donald and David Howell have got to that level and now I have."
Casey became the first winner at his first attempt since Ernie Els in 1994 and only the third Englishman to take the title after Faldo and Lee Westwood. Coming from nearby Weybridge, it was particularly special and even more so for never having won a match in the other World Match Play event in California.
Micheel did some of the heavy lifting for Casey by putting out the world No 1, Tiger Woods, on Thursday but his third European Ryder Cup opponent in a row proved one too many. With Tiger off the premises, Casey felt able to wear a red shirt and the effect was Woodsian. The key moment of the final appeared to come at the 16th hole in the morning. Casey was one-up but at the front of the green when the hole was cut right at the back. Micheel, however, following a misunderstanding on the yardage or the club, hit his approach over the green in front of a grandstand and six feet down a bank.
He then thinned his chip over the green and although Casey three-putted, Micheel lost the hole with a six to a five. While walking from the green to the next tee the American told his caddie in no uncertain terms that it would be best if he did not speak again and also suggested he might not be requiring his services for the rest of the season. Casey took advantage with two mighty blows on to the 17th green to go three-up. The pair halved three holes in birdies in the morning but when Casey went out in 31 in the afternoon, for the second time in the day, Micheel could not stay with the Englishman.
Birdies at the second and fourth put Casey five-up and as Micheel's game wilted, Casey seemed to get stronger. A succession of stunning approach shots at the seventh, eighth and ninth, none longer than six feet, gave Casey three birdies in a row and when Micheel failed to birdie the short 10th he conceded the match. "It is disheartening when you make it this far and don't play well," said the USPGA champion from 2003. "But Paul played some great golf and some great iron shots at the end."
World Match Play (Wentworth): Semi-finals (Saturday): P Casey (Eng) bt C Montgomerie (Sco) 6 & 5; S Micheel (US) bt R Karlsson (Swe) 2 holes. Final (yesterday): Casey bt Micheel 10 and 8.
How the Ryder Cup players fared this weekend
D Clarke Finished 15 shots behind the winner Ian Poulter at the Madrid Masters
P Casey: Won World Match Play at Wentworth
L Donald: Lost in quarter-finals at Wentworth
P Harrington: Finished seven shots off the lead at the Madrid Masters
D Howell: Lost in first round at Wentworth
R Karlsson: Lost in semi-finals at Wentworth
C Montgomerie: Lost in semi-finals at Wentworth
J M Olazabal: Finished nine shots off the lead at the Madrid Masters
Not playing: S Garcia, P McGinley, H Stenson, L Westwood
* UNITED STATES
C Campbell: Missed cut in Lumber Classic, Pennsylvania
C DiMarco: 11 shots off lead after Lumber Classic third round
J Furyk: Lost in first round at Wentworth
D Toms: 10 shots off lead after third rd of Lumber Classic
S Verplank: Missed cut in Lumber Classic
B Wetterich: 15 shots off lead after third rd of Lumber Classic
T Woods: lost in first round of World Match Play
Not playing: S Cink, JJ Henry, Z Johnson, P Mickelson, V Taylor