Micheel continues his amazing ride at World Match Play
Friday, September 15th 2006, 8:53 am
By: News On 6
VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) _ Shaun Micheel must be wondering if fate is on his side at the World Match Play Championship.
He was the last to qualify for the 16-man field at Wentworth. He was the first player in two months to beat Tiger Woods. And, after dusting off another European Ryder Cup player, Micheel suddenly stands one match away from the richest prize in golf.
``You have to feel that way,'' Micheel said Saturday after a 2-up victory over Robert Karlsson. ``I don't know if destiny is the right word, but I've been gaining a lot of confidence each day. Beating Tiger can't do anything to hurt you.''
The lone support in the English crowd comes from his wife, Stephanie, who is four months pregnant and has walked every hole of every match. The last time she was pregnant was in 2003, when Micheel captured the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
``It would make for a good story,'' Micheel said.
Paul Casey has his own script in mind after plowing through Colin Montgomerie, 6 and 5.
Micheel and Casey will play the championship match with 1 million pounds ($1.87 million) going to the winner, the biggest payoff of any official golf tournament in the world.
``I've never had the opportunity to play for that much money before,'' Casey said, who could go to No. 1 in the Order of Merit on the European Tour with a victory. ``Where else can we win a million pounds? Unless we get on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,' and I can't answer those questions. So this is the best opportunity I've got.''
Micheel only got this opportunity by finishing second to Woods by five shots at the PGA Championship, which made him eligible for the HSBS World Match Play Championship based on performance in the majors. Then he knocked out Woods in the first round, ending his five-tournament winning streak, and breezed through Luke Donald of England.
The latest victim was his toughest, as Karlsson became the first player this week to take Micheel the distance. Neither player led by more than 2-up the entire day. Micheel pulled ahead for the last time with a par on the 15th hole, then made a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to stay 1 up and was conceded a 4-foot birdie on the 18th after Karlsson failed to get up-and-down from a bunker.
Along with the money, a victory would allow Micheel to get back into the top 50 and qualify for the $7.5 million World Golf Championship in two weeks at The Grove outside London.
``I feel like that's where I need to be, anyway,'' Micheel said.
All he has to do is beat one more Ryder Cup player in Casey, the most dominant player this week at Wentworth.
Casey now has beaten two major champions (Retief Goosen and Mike Weir) and an eight-time winner of the Order of Merit (Montgomerie) without ever playing more than 33 holes.
Montgomerie was lucky it went that far.
He looked like a part-time player and part-time marshal, barking instructions at fans with their cameras and those walking along the gravel paths that wind through Wentworth. When it came time to hit his shots, they weren't very good. And in one peculiar moment on the 17th green in the morning round, Monty missed a 20-foot birdie putt and stormed off the green, leaving Casey to wonder if that meant his eagle putt had been conceded. Montgomerie's caddie eventually told him to pick it up.
``I was lucky,'' Casey said. ``For whatever reason, it wasn't Colin at his best.''
Casey showed just enough firepower to build a 5-up lead after the morning round and he stretched that to 7 up before Montgomerie tried to chip away. For every hole that went right came a hole that went terribly wrong.
The best example came at No. 8, when Montgomerie hit a beautiful tee shot with a 3-iron that hit hard off a hump in the fairway and kicked sharply forward and to the left, stopping at the base of a hillock. He couldn't take a stance, having to flex his left leg against the side of the hillock, then hitting a cold shank.
His shot from thick rough went into a pond, and Montgomerie ducked under the ropes toward the ninth fairway and walked briskly toward the next tee. The scowl turned to self-deprecating humor on the par-5 12th, when the end was near.
Standing over a 5-wood, he noticed a fan coming out of the trees about 180 yards down the fairway to the left and motioned him to stop. The man covered his head and ran back into the woods.
``I haven't hit it yet,'' Montgomerie called out to him. ``I'm not that bad.''
It didn't matter at that point, because Casey hit a 5-iron from 210 yards that stopped 4 feet away for eagle, then needed only a par on the next hole to advance to the final.
``I didn't get many breaks,'' Montgomerie said. ``But that's like the manager complaining that the fourth goal was offsides when it's 6-nil.''
The consolation for Montgomerie was knowing that Casey will be a teammate in the Ryder Cup.
``It proves how good our squad is for next week,'' he said.
For all the talk about the Ryder Cup, none of it concerns Micheel. He didn't finish in the top 25 in the standings and didn't make the U.S. team. But he again expects to get a taste of it Sunday playing against Casey, who is sure to get support from the English gallery.
``I figure to be a little bit of an underdog,'' Micheel said.
He's been that all week, and it hasn't stopped him in the least.