By Sal Maiorana, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
It was nearly an hour after Shaun Micheel had hit the shot of his life, perhaps the shot of the 2003 golf season, certainly the shot that secured his unlikely triumph in the 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, and the magnitude of it all hadn't yet registered. So it was no surprise that as Micheel stared out at the horde of reporters inquiring how in the name of Ben Curtis he had hit a 7-iron at the 72nd hole to within two inches of the cup, thus slamming the door on persistent Chad Campbell, he seemed a bit flabbergasted. "I can't really believe that this happened to me," said the 34-year-old from Memphis as he stole a glance at the elegant Wanamaker Trophy glistening under the spotlights right next to him. Neither could anyone else in that interview room, or any of the more than 35,000 spectators who roared their approval at Oak Hill, or the millions who were watching the CBS Sports broadcast. Shaun Micheel - that's muh-KEEL - won the PGA Championship?
Then again, shouldn't we all have been used to this by the time The PGA Championship was contested in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. on a historic old course that humbled the best players in the world? Just a month earlier Curtis, another nondescript non-winner on the PGA Tour who was ranked 396th in the world, shocked golfdom when he won the British Open at Royal St. George's. And now here was another ultimate longshot hitting the jackpot. Hey, who's writing these scripts, Kevin Costner?
Well, with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open Champion Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Kenny Perry and eventually Masters Champion Mike Weir getting swallowed by Oak Hill's gnarly rough, somebody had to win. Micheel was that man, and he deserved it. His gritty final-round even-par 70 gave him a 4-under total of 276, two strokes clear of Campbell (72-278), and made it a clean sweep for first-time winners in the majors, the first time that had happened since 1969, the year Micheel was born. Of course that meant Woods did not win a major in 2003, his first major-less year since 1998. Further, his 12-over 292 was his worst score in relation to par at a major as a professional, and it was only the third time he was over par in all four rounds. He called Oak Hill the toughest, fairest course he'd ever played, but he was happy when his miserable week was finished. "It was a tough week," he said. "I fought hard just to shoot bad."
Like Curtis prior to the British, odds are you couldn't get odds on Micheel when The PGA Championship began. In fact, Micheel, who came to Oak Hill ranked 169th in the world and winless in 163 PGA Tour starts, admitted he wouldn't have dropped a dime on himself. I showed up here Tuesday to play a practice round and saw how difficult this golf course was, I was just trying to make the cut," he said. "That was my main goal, and I probably would have been happy with that." By Friday night - thanks to four birdies in his closing five second-round holes - Micheel was altering his expectations just a bit as he sat atop the leaderboard daring to dream that he could win.
On Saturday Micheel advanced all the way to 7-under and had a four-shot lead before bogeying the final three holes which dropped him into a tie with Campbell, the player Sports Illustrated dubbed "The Next Big Thing." Campbell fashioned the best round of the week that day, a 65, to earn a spot next to Micheel in the final pairing for Sunday. Among the Player of the Year candidates, only Weir had a chance to catch Micheel and Campbell on Sunday as he was within three shots of their lead however bogeys on his first five holes derailed Weir's bid to win a second major. And after beating back the mid-round challenges of South Africa's Tim Clark and Czechoslo-vakia's Alex Cejka, it was left for Micheel and Campbell to decide the Championship.
Micheel started well with a birdie at No. 1, but by the time he made the turn after bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8, he was wobbling at 3-under for the tournament and was tied for the lead with Clark who went 3-under on the front side. Campbell played the first nine in 3-over, but when Clark began to fade, Campbell regrouped and regained the drafting position behind Micheel with a birdie at the par-5 13th setting up a frenetic dash to the wire.
Micheel enjoyed a two-shot swing at the short par-4 14th when he drove the green and two-putted for birdie while Campbell bogeyed, but he gave those back at the par-3 15th when he three-putted for bogey and Campbell drained a 25-foot roller coaster of a putt for birdie.
Micheel answered with a 30-foot birdie at 16 after a strong wedge out of the cabbage to the right of the fairway, but then he missed another drive at 17 and settled for a bogey, cutting his lead back to one as they strode to the home hole. Here, the golf gods re-paid Micheel for all the struggles he had endured in 11 years on the pro tours.
He pulled his drive at 18, but when it landed it thumped into a mound on the edge of the fairway. Instead of bounding into the primary rough, the ball squirted right and stopped in the barely penal first cut. "From what it looked like from the tee, it got a pretty nice bounce," said Micheel. "The ball was sitting up, and it was an absolutely perfect number (his yardage of 175 for his 7-iron)." And then he struck an absolutely perfect shot.
"When that ball was in the air, all I was asking for was just to carry to the front of the green," Micheel said. As usual, the golf ball did not listen, but this was a good thing because it didn't just carry the front edge, it hopped back to the pin and stopped a mere two inches from the hole. The ball was majestic in flight against the backdrop of the jam-packed grandstands, that nearly collapsed in excitement when the ball nearly rolled in for a Tin Cup finish. "That would probably be the best shot I've seen under pressure," said Campbell, who hit a pretty good one himself at 18 and settled for a par to secure a solo runner-up finish. CBS Sports dubbed this PGA Championship "Glory's Last Shot" because this was the last major championship of the 2003 season, the last shot at glory. It wasn't quite the last shot struck at Oak Hill, but Micheel's near hole-out couldn't have been more glorious.
"It's kind of scary, really," he said with a look of honest-to-goodness awe on his face. "I was trying to win the B.C. Open a year ago at this time (he blew a three-shot lead on the final day and lost). "Even up until maybe a month or two ago I was trying to keep my card. To have my name on that trophy, I don't know what I'm thinking right now. "I look down that list right there (on the trophy) and see all the names and I just hope that maybe I can produce a career like a lot of those guys have."
|PGA CHAMPIONSHIP SCOREBOARD|
|Charles Howell III||70-72-70-73-285|
|José Maria Olazábal||74-74-76-71-295|