Paul Casey launched 2007 with a renewed determination to capture The European Tour Order of Merit crown which eluded him so narrowly in 2006. And on the evidence of an eighth Tour victory – and a hard fought one at that – in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Casey’s near miss has whetted his appetite to go one better this season.
For much of a tense day in the Gulf sunshine, Casey was locked in combat with his main rival for the Harry Vardon Trophy last year, Padraig Harrington. But while the Irishman who claimed the title as European Number One at Valderrama slipped up over the back nine, Casey ventured forward with an intensity and focus which burned off all opposition.
The Englishman, who was voted European Tour Golfer of the Year for his 2006 exploits, claimed his eighth European Tour title with a closing round of 65 for a 17 under par total of 271, and even a three putt at the 18th for the second day in a row was not enough to halt the Casey juggernaut in full flight.
Casey finished one shot ahead of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez and Swede Peter Hanson with Harrington in a share of fifth behind defending champion Chris DiMarco after a last hole bogey.
Jiménez held the best chance of catching Casey and forcing a play-off, but he mis-hit his second shot at the 17th and picked up an untimely bogey five to drop out of a tie for the lead within minutes of Casey missing from four feet at the last.
The Spaniard tried in vain to prise one more precious birdie from the superbly conditioned Abu Dhabi course but his 25 foot putt on the last slid wide of the hole and with Harrington and Hanson unable to make tying eagles from the middle of the last fairway, it was all over.
Casey moved up to second place in the Order of Merit – his finishing position in 2006 – and admitted that he hadn’t expected to win quite so quickly. He said: “I didn’t think so at the start of the week, but I had a good holiday and then two weeks working very, very hard with Peter Kostis. I am very happy I put in all that hard work.”
The Englishman felt that his closing 65 was his best final round as a professional, although he once achieved a 60 in amateur golf to win by two shots in the USA! I some shots today which I don’t think I could have done had I not put in that work with Peter in the off season, both in fitness and swing – strength training that I’ve done in the gym.
“I did look at the leaderboards on the way round. I wanted to see what I needed to do. It’s nice to look at them when you are playing good golf.”
Reflecting on his first win of 2007 he said: “This is first class, a quality field, a great golf course. Last year was great but this was really polished. I think it’s wonderful that this Middle East Swing is going.”
Jiménez, who closed with a 68, was left to rue the error on the penultimate hole and he said; “I had a very good chance of a play-off at least and maybe a victory, but I hit a bad shot at the 17th. I missed it, and there is no excuse. I am disappointed but pleased with my game in general just three weeks into January.”
Hanson, who became a proud father for the first time on January 2, matched the Spaniard’s 68 for a total of 282 and observed; “I was really pleased to birdie the last two holes to get into a share of second place. It’s a great start to a year which started so well when my baby daughter was born a few weeks ago.
“I played well in a great field and going head to head with Harrington and Jiménez. I noticed after about 12 holes that Paul Casey was flying and although I tried my hardest I just couldn’t catch him.”
Harrington, the 54 hole leader, ended up sharing fifth spot with Retief Goosen and Jean-Francois Lucquin on 274 after bogeys at the 11th and 18th proved decisive. The Dubliner said: “I suffered with my focus and bogeyed two holes on the back nine which doesn’t happen too often. Such is the game. It’s always disappointing when you have a chance but I still feel I am well ahead of expectations for this time of year.”