Paul Casey produced a grandstand finish to seal a sensational victory in the Irish Open, completing a superb return to form with his first European Tour victory in two-and-a-half years.
The Englishman took a one-shot lead over in-form Dutchman Joost Luiten into the last hole but looked in trouble when his tee shot ran close to a tree. Instead, the former Ryder Cup player had a clear shot and found the green with his superb approach before holing a dramatic 45-foot eagle putt to sign off a three-shot victory in style.
It proved to be the perfect return to Carton House for the 35-year-old, who admitted he had “lost” the title to Thomas Björn when the European Tour last visited the Co. Kildare venue in 2006.
This time Casey had plenty of work to do to win it after starting the day four strokes behind overnight leader Luiten, who won in Austria earlier in the month. After seven consecutive pars, Casey’s challenge ignited with five birdies in six holes from the eighth to move three shots clear at the top of the leaderboard.
That cushion was reduced to one with bogeys at the 15th and 16th, before he sealed his 12th European Tour title in style, with the closing eagle adding up to a final round 67 and a 14-under par winning total of 274.
“It’s incredibly sweet,” said Casey. “It’s been a while and when that putt went in half of it was relief and half of it was satisfaction. I always wanted a grandstand finish and I got one. I’ve never holed a putt like that to win a tournament.
“I don’t think I quite realised the list of names who have won the Irish Open until I was presented with the trophy. 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, so winning today is like a home victory.”
Casey has been slowly returning to his best after breaking his collarbone while snowboarding at the start of the 2012 season, an accident which came as he was preparing to defend the last European Tour title he won, the 2011 Volvo Golf Champions.
The former World No 3 tumbled down the world golf rankings as he tried to recover from the injury and a subsequent loss of form, but he is now set to return to the top 100 after starting the week ranked 162nd.
“There was a period where I really struggled with getting the shoulder back to where I wanted it,” he said. “In hindsight, did I come back too early? Probably, because the swing changed, trying to protect the shoulder, which led to a knock‑on snowball into losing confidence, because the swing had changed and I was not hitting the shots I wanted to hit.
“When you’re playing great golf, you have no idea how you ever played bad golf. And when you play bad golf, you’ve got no clue how you ever played good golf.”
Overnight leader Luiten carded the only birdie of his round on the final hole to sign for a 74 and finish joint runner-up with Englishman Robert Rock (71) on 11 under par.
Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal finished fourth after a closing 75, while a trio of his compatriots, José María Olazábal, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Alvaro Quiros, shared fifth place with Northern Ireland’s Gareth Shaw and Shane Lowry, Carton House’s Touring Professional, who closed with a 69.
Meanwhile, Bill Haas won the AT&T National last night and joined some distinguished company. Haas pulled away from a crowd of contenders with three straight birdies in the middle of his final round at Congressional. Two key putts down the stretch gave him some room for error that he didn’t even need. He closed with a 5-under 66 for a three-shot win over Roberto Castro.
As many as six players had a share of the lead at some point until Haas made the first of his three straight birdies on No 8. He led by at least two shots over the entire back nine. Haas has now won at least one PGA Tour event in each of the last four years, matched only by Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose.
(Gbr & Irl unless stated, par 72):
274 Paul Casey 68 72 67 67
277 Robert Rock 69 66 71 71, Joost Luiten (Ned) 67 70 66 74
279 Pablo Larrazabal (Spa) 69 69 66 75
280 Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa) 68 69 71 72, Gareth Shaw 73 68 70 69, Shane Lowry 67 70 74 69, Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa) 69 70 70 71, Alvaro Quiros (Spa) 72 68 68 72
281 Peter Whiteford 71 68 69 73, Alejandro Canizares (Spa) 71 69 69 72, Jamie Donaldson 69 71 69 72, Danny Willett 73 68 71 69, Peter Lawrie 72 71 67 71
Selected others: 283 Marc Warren 69 75 67 72. 284 Scott Henry 74 64 69 77. 288 David Drysdale 72 71 72 73, Stephen Gallacher 72 70 73 73, Paul Lawrie 71 70 73 74. 289 Callum Macaulay 73 71 76 69.