Everyone had their eyes so firmly fixed on Tiger Woods and the men just in front or just behind him; Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Justin Rose and Corey Conners, a rookie not too many people had heard of - they didn't even see Paul Casey coming.
Just as he has been for a good many months, the 40-year-old Englishman, was there and about, lurking, but never quite making it to the very front.
However, this time, partly inspired by 47-year-old Phil Mickelson's win for the 'oldies' last week, 40-year-old Casey turned his final round into a long-awaited triumph with a stunning 6-under 65 that rocketed him to the head of the leaderboard with a 10-under 274 total a full hour ahead of the finish by the third-round front-runners, one of them a clearly rejuvenated Tiger Woods.
Woods with some vigorous backing of the galleries at the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club's Copperhead Course in Florida, was at 9-under standing on the 18th tee, but failed to get close enough on the tricky, viciously-sloped green at 18, missed the birdie he needed to force a playoff and with a closing 70 had to settle for a second-place tie with Reed (68), who had gone one better and was matched with Casey's 10-under total coming down the 18th.
But Reed too faltered on that unforgiving 18th green where Casey had been happy to make a par - and that was that.
Casey's long wait in the clubhouse was over. In his 20th Worldwide victory, but only his second on the US PGA Tour, Casey had triumphed by a shot in the Valspar Championship.
Reed made the green at 18, but its shape left him having to either chip or putt over a small patch of interfering fairway to reach the hole and give him the birdie he needed to win.
He chose to putt, but it was a mistake. Slowed by the patch of long grass, the ball failed to make the top of the sharp slope he needed to negotiate and came rolling back to him.
Now, needing a par for a playoff, he chose to chip over the patch, came up short and had to settle for a bogey and a second-place tie at 9-under with Tiger.
Reigning Master champion Sergio Garcia, like Casey, came roaring home with a 65 to finish alone in 4th place with Rose (72) and South African blast from the past Rory Sabbatini (69) tied for 5th ahead of yet another oldie, Jim Furyk (66).
The young guns were nowhere in sight at the finish this week. Connors blew himself out of the water with a closing 77 that dumped him back into a tie for 16th while Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy didn't even make the cut.
Casey, who will now soar from 17th to 12th in the World
Rankings was over the moon
“I loved Phil’s victory,” said the beaming Englishman, who began the day six strokes back, made seven birdies and just one bogey on his first 13 holes, then sat back and waited to see if he could be caught.
“That’s why I thought Tiger was going to win today because he probably watched Phil win.
“It’s becoming a young man’s sport, and so it’s very rewarding to be able to go up against the young guys and still beat them and still compete with them,” Casey said
Casey triumph at Copperhead was built on his ability at the weekend to make putts when it really mattered - something that he has admittedly struggled with for much of his career and which he set about correcting by spending time in the offseason working on fixing his stroke.
He was too often shutting and de-lofting the face of his putter on the take back so he started with it more open and it worked for him - never more so than on Sunday when he needed just 21 putts.
He also says he is no longer "thinking so much" and is being more "carefree".
“The way I strike the golf ball; when I’m hitting other clubs in the bag I don’t stress about technique. I never have,” he said. “I’ve never done that with my putting. I’ve always been super critical and try to have a great stroke. Now I’m approaching it the same way I approach the rest of my game. It’s carefree.”
“I’ve reached a very good place in my life where I’ve got a wife and kids and life is very, very good,” Casey said. “To get a victory, another victory is very much icing on the cake and kind of fills that void and makes me even happier. I was happy before but now I'm happier.”
Despite lamenting that a "couple of putts here and there" could have produced a different outcome, Woods too was happy, believing that his latest performance was proof that his spinal fusion on his lower back had been a great success and that once again he is going to be a man to be reckoned with.
Despite his narrow loss. He found Casey amid the tumult and shouting afterwards so that he could congratulate the Englishman.
“It’s the only time he’s congratulated me immediately after a victory,” Casey said.
Speaking earlier during his clubhouse wait Casey said, “I don’t know how Tiger does it. He’s always had an ability to deal with the distractions and sometimes draw from them, and I actually I want him to play brilliant golf and I want him to win again because I want these kids to see what we had to deal with for a long, long time,”
“It would be brilliant. If I don’t win this week I want Tiger to win. I’m almost afraid to say that.”
LEADING FINAL - ROUND SCORES
(Par 71 - US unless stated)
274 Paul Casey (ENG) 70 68 71 65
275 Patrick Reed 71 69 67 68, Tiger Woods 70 68 67 70
276 Sergio Garcia (ESP) 70 72 69 65
277 Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 70 71 67 69, Justin Rose (ENG) 70 69 66 72
278 Jim Furyk 70 73 69 66
279 Jason Kokrak 72 67 72 68, Webb Simpson 71 68 70 70, Branden Grace (RSA) 73 68 68 70, Trey Mullinax 72 68 69 70
280 Adam Hadwin (CAN) 71 70 71 68, Steve Stricker 70 71 70 69, Sean O'Hair 71 68 71 70, Sam Burns 71 69 67 73
281 Jamie Lovemark 72 73 68 68, Ryan Blaum 73 69 70 69, T.J. Vogel 73 70 69 69, Abraham Ancer (MEX) 72 73 67 69, Zach Johnson 73 68 69 71, Blayne Barber 70 70 70 71, William McGirt 71 70 69 71, Luke List 70 71 69 71, Louis Oosthuizen (RSA) 71 69 69 72, Adam Scott (AUS) 70 73 66 72, Russell Knox (SCO) 69 74 66 72, Corey Conners (CAN) 67 69 68 77.
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