England’s Paul Casey gets back to winning ways
Casey’s peerless display is capped off by a 60-footer for eagle on the finishing hole
England’s Paul Casey celebrates an eagle on the 18th hole on his way to winning the Irish Open at Carton House, Co Kildare. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA
The forgotten man, as Paul Casey had become, provided further proof of the old cliche: if form is temporary, class is permanent. Yesterday, the Englishman – who once upon a time rose to a career high of third in the world rankings only to be bedevilled by injuries that led to an improbable slump – hit the shots, sank the putts and stole the show as he came in from the cold to claim the Irish Open with a closing 67 for 274, 14-under-par, that gave him a clear three stroke margin over his pursuers.
On a day when a stiff wind and some tricky pin placements caused second-guessing on club selection and a prolonged squall with heavy rain added to the difficulty, Casey – who came into the championship as the 169th ranked player in the world – overcame a 54-hole four stroke deficit on Dutchman Joost Luiten, who had to settle for a share of second place alongside Robert Rock.
In front of a final day crowd of 24,173, Casey’s peerless display, capped off by a 60-footer for eagle on the finishing hole, reminded us of his quality. But there were others who provided special moments, among them Gareth Shaw, the 27-year-old Ulsterman who normally plies his trade on the secondary Challenge Tour, who bogeyed his opening two holes before completing the remainder in five-under en route to a 69 for 280 that lifted him into tied-fifth alongside Shane Lowry.
Clicked into gear
For much of the final round, Luiten and, briefly, Jose Maria Olazábal seemed destined to claim the prize. Until Casey clicked into gear, that is. Without a win on tour since the Volvo Golf Champions, after which he spent over three months sidelined by a shoulder injury suffered in a snowboarding accident, Casey had a slow start to his final round and didn’t appear an obvious threat as he started seven straight pars; then, a tap-in two-footer on the eighth kick-started a run for glory. He proved unstoppable.
Indeed, Casey claimed four successive birdies from the eighth – holing from distances ranging from three-feet to 12-feet with an exhibition of accurate iron play – and, after parring the 12th, he got back on the birdie train with an approach to two feet on the 13th that, unbeknownst to him, moved him three shots clear. Back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th made for a shaky home run, until he rolled in that monster eagle putt on the 18th (where he hit a three-iron from the right rough to the front of the green) to capture the title and the €333,330 winner’s cheque.
Afterwards, Casey kept looking at the trophy and the names on the base which confirmed its rich heritage. Ballesteros, Langer, Olazábal, Faldo, Montgomerie and Harrington. “I don’t think I quite realised the list of names who have won the Irish Open . . . . but I’ve always held golf in Ireland in a special place in my heart, and it is at the highest level; the Irish fans are the best. I’ve always felt so at home here.”
The win – which will move him back into the world’s top-100 when the latest rankings are released today – had many fringe benefits: it earned Casey a place in the field for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the Champions tournament in China and the Race to Dubai finale and puts him in line for an exemption into the US PGA. However, he will have to win the Scottish Open if he is to earn a place in the upcoming British Open.
‘Struggled with confidence’
“Psychologically, I think this is huge. This is almost feels like a first win again, that kind of feeling. I have struggled with the confidence, and this is a huge relief, knowing that I’m moving in the right direction; that I’ve got great golf left in me for another 10 plus years. This is a massive confidence boost,” said Casey, who also believes he can again contend in the Majors and emulate the feat of his friend Justin Rose, the US Open champion.
Whilst Casey could – again – bask in the champion’s glory, Shaw, in his own way, could reflect on a potentially career-changing performance. The 27-year-old from Lurgan in Co Armagh only got a place in the field after Simon Thornton’s win a fortnight ago in the St Omer Open freed-up a sponsor’s invite.
On such breaks are destinies altered, and Shaw made the most of it. An eagle two on the drivable par 4 13th highlighted a round that earned him a top-five finish (earning him a career best €61,920) and a place in this week’s French Open.
For years, players like Michael Hoey and Gareth Maybin had been telling Shaw he had the game for the main tour. “When other people are saying that, guys like that, you have to start believing in yourself a bit more . . . I’m working hard to get here, where I feel I belong. And the margins of where I’m playing on the Challenge Tour and the main tour is a few breaks here and there, and a bit of luck along the way.”
If Shaw needed to take any further inspiration, he had to look no further than the new champion and his message: you make, and take, your own breaks!