Micheel's victory crowns year of the unexpected

Woods' worst season in majors opens door for unlikely names as Tour journeyman takes USPGA Championship

Andy Farrell,New York
Sunday 27 October 2013 04:30

Shaun Micheel's brilliant approach shot on the final hole at Oak Hill not only sealed his surprise victory in the 85th USPGA Championship but put a dramatic exclamation point on one of the more curious seasons in the majors. It is the first time since 1969 that all four champions have been first-time winners.

The quartet back then was George Archer, Orville Moody, Tony Jacklin and Ray Floyd. The first pair never won another major. The latter duo did and became Ryder Cup captains. What to make of Mike Weir, the Masters champion, Jim Furyk, the US Open winner, Ben Curtis, the victor at the Open at Royal St George's, and Micheel?

The first two were well-known players with regular tour victories behind them. Both Weir and Furyk have become part of the game's establishment, Weir's final-round collapse here notwithstanding. But neither Curtis nor Micheel had been previously spotted on the radar. Both made a major their first big win. Curtis was 396th in the world but beat some of the game's best on the final day at Sandwich. He became the first player for 90 years to win in his first major.

Micheel was playing in his third major but in July he sat at home watching Curtis on television after missing the cut in the BC Open. "A month ago I was just trying to keep my card," said the 34-year-old from Memphis. "When I got here and saw how difficult the golf course was I just hoped to make the cut. I can't believe this has happened to me."

This was the second major in a row when the winner was as surprised as those watching. "I had a lot of anxiety and anticipation. The fear of the unknown frightens all of us. It's kind of scary," Micheel said of his long wait to play on Sunday afternoon.

He might easily have been describing the changes in his life that are about to happen. His wife, Stephanie, is expecting a child in November but his golf career will take a different course from this morning when he will realise he cannot spend the week looking for a new house as planned but will be heading to Akron, Ohio, for the NEC World Invitational.

Micheel was the only player not to go over par in any round. A closing 70 left him at four under, two ahead of Chad Campbell. Tim Clark, of South Africa, and Germany's Alex Cejka completed a top-four who were not ranked in the world's top 50 nor had won on the main US Tour.

Quite where the game's best players got to was a mystery, Ernie Els being the most familiar name in joint-fifth place. Without winning a major, Els had the most consistent record in the four biggies, with a sixth, a fifth and an 18th in the other three.

Tiger Woods, of course, was among those who also made the cut in all four majors but his aggregate total of 18 over par was the worst of his career. His 39th place here was also his worst in a major. With the world No 1 not performing with his usual authority, his nearest challengers might have been expected to fill their boots.

But in such highly unpredictable majors that did not happen, even though on the regular tour many of the best players have enjoyed multiple victories. "I think this just shows how many good players there are," said Campbell. "Ben Curtis at the British Open and now me and Shaun battling here, it shows pretty much anyone in the field can win."

Unless they are European, of course. Cejka never quite got close enough at Oak Hill and, following Thomas Bjorn's demise at Royal St George's, there has not been a European winner of a major for four years, or 17 majors.

Micheel, who displayed terrific scrambling skills to counteract a wayward driver, did not make a par on the final five holes as his lead grew and contracted like a heart beat. There were a pair of two-shot swings on the back nine and he arrived at the 18th one ahead of Campbell on the back of a bogey at the previous hole.

His drive bounced through the rough back onto the fairway and he was left with 175 yards to the hole and took a seven-iron from his bag. "I had a perfect yardage and a perfect lie," he said. "All I was concerned about was hitting the ball solid. I was just trying to put it on the middle of the green.

"While it was in the air all I was hoping for was it to carry up the hill on to the green. I wanted to make sure I got my par. I made a pretty good swing and when I hit it to two inches, I figured I could make that putt." Finally, there was a prediction that might come true.

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