Casey builds big lead over Micheel

Sunday, September 17th 2006, 7:12 am
By: News On 6

VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) _ Paul Casey put himself halfway home to the richest prize in golf Sunday morning, taking advantage of a hot putter early and late, sloppy mistakes by Shaun Micheel to build a 3-up lead.

Casey rolled through his previous three opponents, none of his 36-hole matches lasting more than 33 holes. And this one looked like it might be headed in the same direction.

The 29-year-old Englishman never trailed in the morning, but the match remained tight until it turned on the 16th hole.

From a fairway bunker, Casey did well to come up a yard short of the green, still some 70 feet from the flag. Micheel was in the middle of the fairway, but hit too much club and sailed the green, the ball stopping next to the bleachers. After dropping into a matted, muddy lie, he tried to flop a chip up the steep slope, but sculled it over the green.

Casey three-putted from off the green for bogey, but Micheel missed a 5-foot putt and took double bogey to fall 2 down.

It appeared Micheel's caddie gave him either the wrong yardage or the wrong club, for when Micheel walked toward the 17th tee he barked at caddie Tony Lingard, ``Don't say another word to me the rest of the day.''

Micheel then pulled his tee shot on the par-5 17th, clipped another tree on his second and had to hit 3-iron for his third shot, while Casey was safely on the green in two for another two-putt birdie that put him 3 up.

They halved the 18th hole with two-putt birdies.

At stake for the winner was 1 million pounds, the richest payoff among official golf tournaments in the world. For Micheel, a victory was almost certain to put him into the top 50 in the world ranking and get him into the American Express Championship at The Grove outside London in two weeks.

The championship match wasn't the first time Micheel and Casey had squared off. They played in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa in California two years ago, with Micheel winning in 21 holes.

Micheel had an early chance on the par-3 second, but missed a 10-foot birdie and Casey saved par with a 6-foot putt. Micheel did well to escape with a halve on the third after hitting into a fairway bunker and having to lay up some 130 yards short of the green. His third shot nestled 4 feet behind the hole for a par.

But from there, Casey took over.

Using his length and accuracy _ he missed only three fairways in the morning round _ Casey reached the green in two for a simple green on the par-5 fourth, and then his putter got hot.

Casey holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the sixth to match birdies with Micheel, then made an 18-foot birdie on the seventh to go 2 up. After Micheel hit a beautiful approach to 3 feet on the eighth, Casey again responded by making a birdie putt from 12 feet.

They both played exceptionally well over the first nine holes, with Casey out in 31 and Micheel in 33. But it got sloppy as they headed toward the clubhouse for lunch.

From a fairway bunker on the 11th, Casey tried to do too much and hit the lip, the ball coming out sideways into the heather. His only option was to pitch back toward the fairway, and he eventually conceded the hole.

Micheel gave it back on the par-5 12th, clipping a branch trying to escape from the trees, then dumping his third shot into a burn. He continued to play, getting up-and-down for a conceded bogey and making Casey lag his 20-foot birdie putt.