Casey Wins World Match Play Championship

Monday, September 18th 2006, 6:36 am
By: News On 6

VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) _ The guy in a red shirt and a swoosh turned in a record-setting performance to win the World Match Play Championship on Sunday, just as everyone expected. Paul Casey said his choice of apparel was merely a coincidence.

A tournament that began with Tiger Woods going for his sixth straight victory ended with Casey plowing through everyone in his path to capture the richest prize in golf and send him to the Ryder Cup with the biggest win of his career.

Casey never trailed in his final 71 holes of a marathon week at Wentworth, winning the final five against Shaun Micheel for a 10-and-8 victory, the largest margin of the final match in the 43-year history of the HSBC World Match Play Championship.

No other golfer has made winning 1 million pounds (about $1.88 million) look so easy.

``It's just wonderful to put my name down in history, put my name on the roll of honor,'' said Casey, who became only the fifth player without a major to win this tournament.

So dominant was Casey that he played only 126 holes, another record for fewest holes over four 36-hole matches. Ian Woosnam and Padraig Harrington each played 128 holes in 2001.

As for the red shirt?

``It wasn't a conscious decision,'' he said. ``I thought it would look nice with the HSBC logo.''

Still, he recalled seeing Luke Donald wear a red shirt when he played with Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship, which Woods won easily for his 12th career major. Casey said he had a red shirt picked out for the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational the following week at Firestone, but switched to lime green when he realized he would be in the last group with Woods.

``He owns that color,'' Casey said. ``I would have to ask permission to wear red on Sunday.''

Woods was about a 30-minute drive away, watching Chelsea beat Liverpool in an English Premier League soccer game. By the end of a long and frustrating day, Micheel looked like he was miles away, too.

A mistake that caused him to curse his caddie on the 16th hole sent him tumbling too far behind, and Casey hit the ball too well off the tee and too close to the flag for Micheel to make up any ground.

``Better to be beaten by someone who has played so well,'' he said.

Micheel had his own wardrobe issues.

Whether it was a premonition or an oversight, he didn't pack enough shirts to last all week at Wentworth. But then he knocked out Woods in the first round, and beat Ryder Cup players Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson to reach the final match.

Micheel had to send out his laundry Saturday night and wound up wearing the same shirt he had on in the semifinals.

It didn't bring him much luck, although he was very much in the match through the first 15 holes of the morning round. Casey was 1 up and hit his tee shot into the bunker on the 16th, leaving him no chance to reach the green.

From the fairway, Micheel sent his 8-iron over the green and against the base of the grandstands. He had to take relief in a muddy, matted patch of grass. Trying to flop the ball up a steep slope, he sculled it over the green, some 70 feet away.

Casey three-putted from the front of the green for bogey. From nearly the same spot, Micheel lagged to 5 feet, but lipped out his bogey putt and lost the hole.

He tossed his wedge at the bag, then barked at caddie Tony Lingard, ``Don't say another word to me the rest of the day.''

Still rattled, Micheel pulled his tee shot on the par-5 17th, then clipped a tree branch on his next shot and still had a 3-iron into the green for his third, while Casey was already on in two. That gave Casey a 3-up lead, and he never let up after lunch.

Casey won the sixth hole with a par, then hit short irons into no more than 6 feet on his next three holes to make birdies. The match ended on the par-3 10th when Casey hit 7-iron to 20 feet, and Micheel conceded the birdie after missing his putt.

``None of the matches were easy, even though the scores may not have reflected that,'' said Casey, a 29-year-old from England who grew up about 15 minutes away from Wentworth. ``I was happy to just make the final. If I won, it was purely a bonus.''

It was some bonus.

His prize was the largest of any official tournament in the world, and while only about 40 percent of it applies toward the Order of Merit on the European Tour, it was enough to put Casey atop the list. This was his third victory of the tour's season, the most by an English player since Lee Westwood in 2000.

Better yet, it sends him to Ireland full of confidence and still relatively fresh after winning each match so handily. The previous record for a championship match was Nick Faldo beating Jeff Sluman, 8 and 7, in 1992.

``Whatever happens this week, I don't think you can predict what's going to happen next week,'' Casey said. ``This certainly gives me a lot of match play practice, and a taste of what long days are going to be like.''

Alas, players don't get paid in the Ryder Cup.

And it's been a while since Europeans wore red on Sunday.