Two years ago at Oakland Hills, Paul Casey was a Ryder Cup rookie and headed to Detroit not knowing what to expect. This week at the K Club, Casey will swap trepidation for undiluted excitement. Today he has the opportunity to head for Ireland on the back of the biggest victory of his career.
Casey will attempt to become the HSBC World Match Play champion after he defeated the sole remaining former winner, Colin Montgomerie, in yesterday's semi-finals. In the battle of the European Ryder Cup players Casey was always in charge, and ran out a comfortable 6 & 5 winner.
Montgomerie, at 43 the oldest player in the field this week, was nowhere near his best and after two narrow victories had run out of steam. Casey, on the other hand, has now defeated two major champions in Retief Goosen and Mike Weir, plus the eight-time Order of Merit winner, and all without going past the 15th in the afternoon in these traditional 36-hole matches.
In the final he faces Shaun Micheel, who defeated Robert Karlsson to add to his wins over Tiger Woods and Luke Donald. The American has proved himself a mighty matchplayer, but in a tight game with the Swede Micheel did not need the stunning approach shot at the last he hit to win the 2003 US PGA. After hitting a hospitality tent, he got up and down to confirm a two-hole win.
"I always thought it was going to come down to the end and I feel fortunate to have come out on top," said Micheel. Only four men have won the World Match Play without winning a major, and Casey will try to make it five, while Micheel can become the 22nd major winner to lift this title too.
While the head-to-head format makes for good preparation for the Ryder Cup, it has meant two of the season's most exhausting weeks back to back. Inevitably, the loser always feels more tired than the winner, and Montgomerie highlighted the need for players to be rested as much as possible at the K Club.
"It just proves how good our squad is," Montgomerie said of Casey's run to the final. "We need to play around with that. We don't need to play guys five times as we have in the past. We need to keep people fresh for the singles."
Between 1993 and 2002 Montgomerie never missed a series of Ryder Cup action, so he knows of what he speaks. While Casey concurred with the sentiment, there is no doubt he feels he has plenty to contribute. "I'm there to play as many matches as I am asked to," he said. "I think I'm fit enough. But I think we have great depth to our team and we can create a lot of pairings, so I don't think there is a need for lots of guys to play five times."
Casey played just twice in Detroit, winning a vital point with David Howell on Saturday and then losing 3 & 2 to Tiger Woods in the singles. The story was that Casey had put himself up for playing the world No 1, but yesterday he revealed what really happened. He was with Bernhard Langer, the captain, and Darren Clarke when Langer turned to them and said he had a couple of guys in mind for going top, where he thought, correctly, Tiger would be placed. Immediately, Clarke slapped Casey on the back and said: "You'll be fine." Casey could hardly demur. "You can't say no to those guys," he said.
Today Casey will attempt to become the first winner on debut here since Ernie Els in 1994. He will also be playing for a first prize of £1 million, and although the amount is capped for Order of Merit purposes, a win would put Casey above David Howell at the top of the money list.
"I am desperately trying to chase down guys like David and Luke Donald," Casey said. "They have done so well in recent years and they are the ones I have to pay attention to, so to win here would show all the work I've done is paying off."
Montgomerie was giving away years and yards to his younger opponent and knew he had to get the ball on the fairway to have a chance. He could not, and Casey was able to keep the pressure on with a superb display of driving.
It got away from Monty around the turn in the morning, but a 74 for the first 18 holes was never going to keep him in contention. From five-up at lunch, Casey won the third and the fourth, and only a couple of bogeys from the Englishman kept the game going. At the eighth, Montgomerie finished at the base of a bank and, from an awkward stance with his legs at 90 degrees, shanked his recovery.
His eyes went as sideways as the ball and almost popped out of their sockets. His third went into the water and he walked to the ninth tee. The Scot responded with a great birdie, only his third of the day, but Casey then eagled the 12th. A five-iron from 210 yards to six feet was a glorious way to signal the end, which came only a hole later.
P Casey (Eng) bt C Montgomerie (Scot) 6 & 5
S Micheel (US) bt R Karlsson (Swe) by two holesReuse content