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85TH PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Micheel Is Pitch Perfect

Seven-iron approach to within two inches of 18th hole clinches victory that makes him latest in a series of unlikely major winners.

August 18, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — His hands were shaking, his knees were weak. You wondered if he could stand on his own two feet.

Another hip-swinger from Memphis was all shook up.

In fact, the prospect of winning the 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill almost sickened Shaun Micheel.

"I had some oatmeal for breakfast that got about three bites taken out of it," he admitted.

Sunday afternoon, though, he stared down his second shot at the par-four 18th hole as though he was Jack Nicklaus and faced these momentous moments all the time.

Micheel had 175 yards to the cup, pretty much thinking par would win him the Wanamaker Trophy. He pulled a seven-iron from his bag and let it rip, the ball landing two inches from the hole for a tap-in birdie that would conclude another improbable major championship.

Micheel, ranked 169th in the world, was suddenly sitting on top of it, winning his first PGA event in his 164th try while capping one of golf's most silly seasons.

The stunning details were these.

Micheel, who shared the third-round lead with Chad Campbell, shot a very uneven even-par 70 (five birdies to offset five bogeys) on Sunday to hold off Campbell by two strokes for victory.

Micheel finished at four-under 276 overall followed by Campbell at 278, Timothy Clark at 279 and Alex Cejka at 280.

None of the top four finishers had won a PGA Tour event until Sunday, when the 34-year-old Micheel became the 13th player in the last 16 years to make the PGA Championship his first or only major win.

Surprised?

"Of course I'm surprised," Micheel said of his victory. "I did not look up at the leaderboard one time, I don't think, until 18. That probably helped me."

Micheel is the 10th person to make his first PGA tournament victory a major, following Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Orville Moody, Jerry Pate, John Daly, Jeff Sluman, Paul Lawrie, Retief Goosen and Ben Curtis.

Curtis was ranked 396th when he won this year's British Open, making that two far-fetched fairy tales in less than a month.

And, for the first time since 1969, each of this year's major titles are held by first-time major winners.

Go figure.

In 40 years, golf has gone from Arnie's Army to Micheel's Navy.

Micheel's seven-iron on 18 will become an instant classic in golf lore, even if others will have to fill him in on the details.

"I'm sure Mr. Nicklaus probably holed his share of putts on 18 like he always has," Micheel said. "I'm not a great historian of golf, I apologize."

Forgive Micheel if what happened to him Sunday, from the oatmeal on, was tough to digest.

As he walked on the 18th green and saw how close his ball was to the cup, Micheel stood and stared at his accomplishment, almost in disbelief. He patted his chest six times to indicate what all this had been doing to his heart.

After tapping in to win, he found his wife, Stephanie, and kissed the belly that is carrying their baby boy.

It doesn't get much better than this for a man who spent years just trying to survive on the PGA Tour.

As for his hopes this week, he said, "I was just trying to make the cut."

This was not a cheap victory. He posted his first win on one of the toughest major courses ever designed. Only three players finished under par for 72 holes and only five of 70 players posted sub-par rounds Sunday.

All the heavy hitters were here, Tiger Woods included, but none of them stepped to the plate.

You talk about opportunities lost.

Mike Weir, reigning Masters champion, started the day one under and only three shots behind of the leaders but opened play with five consecutive bogeys. He ultimately shot 75 and ended up four-over 284 for the tournament.

Ernie Els, a three-time major winner, was five shots back at the outset and pulled to within three shots of the lead after a birdie on No. 9, but he ended up at 282.

Vijay Singh, another multiple major winner, started the day at two over and six shots back. Singh answered with a 79.

Phil Mickelson, now 0 for 46 in majors, was three over and seven shots behind the leaders, birdied the first hole, but then faded to a round of 75.

Micheel never lost at least a share of the lead on the final day, not that it didn't get ticklish.

He started to prepare his acceptance speech on the par-four 14th, when he stretched his one-shot lead over playing partner Campbell to three.

Micheel drove the green on the 323-yard hole and two-putted for birdie to go four under on the day as Campbell took a bogey to fall to one under.

Incredibly, Micheel gave those two shots back on the 15th hole, when he swapped a bogey for a Campbell birdie.

Micheel extended his lead back to two when he rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on the par-four 16th, but surrendered another shot to Campbell with a bogey on 17.

It was back and forth like this much of the day, under premium pressure when you consider it was Micheel's first PGA and Campbell's second.

Micheel took a one-shot lead to the 18th tee as everyone held their breath.

A fan in the gallery reminded Micheel what was at stake.

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