From journeyman to major champion, Micheel's story

In the biggest moment of his career, Shaun Micheel made his finest swing.

CLIFTON BROWNNew York Times News Service

In the biggest moment of his career, Shaun Micheel made his finest swing.

Shaun Micheel of the USA hugs the trophy, after winning the 85th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. — Pic. JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES-

Clinging to a one-stroke lead, on the final hole of the PGA Championship, Micheel faced a crucial approach shot, 175 yards from the pin. But he also faced a crossroad in his career. Could he win a major championship, playing his first PGA, and having never won a PGA Tour event in 163 previous starts? Could he handle the pressure, knowing a mistake might cost him this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Could he finally close a tournament at the top, instead of wondering deep inside if he possessed the steeliness to win?

Pulling a 7-iron from his bag, Campbell pulled off the spectacular. His ball soared toward the flagstick, landed on the 18th green and nearly rolled into the cup, stopping two inches from the cup.

The championship belonged to Micheel. The gallery at Oak Hill Country Club exploded in noise. The 7-iron shot instantly became part of major championship lore. And at age 34, Micheel went from journeyman to major champion.

Ending an unpredictable tournament, and an improbable year in major championship golf, Micheel, with his gorgeous 7-iron and tap-in birdie at No. 18, won the PGA by two strokes over Chad Campbell, and by three strokes over Tim Clark. Micheel finished at four under par (276, 69-68-69-70), ahead of Campbell (278, 69-72-65-72) and Clark (279, 72-70-68-69), the only three competitors who finished under par.

It marked the first year since 1969 that the year's four majors were won by first-time major winners. When Mike Weir won the Masters, and Jim Furyk won the United States Open, those were crowning moments for two players already ranked among the world's best. But the last two major winners were shocking _ Ben Curtis, ranked 396th in the world, winning last month's British Open, followed by Micheel, ranked No. 169, battling Campbell, ranked No. 58, and also without a victory on Tour.

Afterward, even Micheel admitted that he didn't expect to leave with the Wanamaker Trophy when the tournament began.

"I really can't believe that this happened to me,'' said Micheel, who won $1.08 million and became the seventh player to win the PGA on his first attempt. "I showed up here on Tuesday to play a practice round and saw how difficult this golf course was. I just was trying to make the cut. I know that sounds pretty simple, but really that was my main goal. I probably would have been happy with that.''

As the week went on, Micheel realised he could win, and on the weekend, he played like an experienced champion. Beginning the final round tied for the lead with Campbell, Micheel never looked back, taking the lead for good with a birdie at No. 1 and turning back every challenge.

It wasn't easy. After Micheel made an 8-footer for birdie at No. 14 to take a three-stroke lead, Campbell responded with a 30-foot birdie putt at No. 15 , while Micheel made a three-putt bogey at the same hole. Suddenly, he lead was only one stroke again, and Campbell knew he had a chance.

"It was kind of a roller-coaster right there,'' Campbell said. "One time you're thinking, `I might be out of this.' But with the last two holes here, you can't really count yourself out.''

Facing Oak Hill's brutal finish, Micheel responded in style. After putting superbly all week, Micheel make another huge one at No. 16, sinking a 20-footer for birdie that increased his lead to two strokes. But a bad drive at the par-4 No. 17 forced Micheel to lay up on his second shot, leading to a bogey that cut his lead to one stroke heading to No. 18.

Campbell hit a superb drive at No. 18, putting even more pressure on Micheel, who bogeyed No. 18 on Saturday. However, Micheel got a break this time. His tee shot flirted with the left rough, but when it landed, it took a favorable kick to the right, back into the first cut of rough. That set up Micheel for his perfect 7-iron.

"To have my name on that trophy, I really don't know what I'm thinking right now,'' said Micheel, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where he and his wife, Stephanie, are expecting their first child in November. "I look down that and see all the names. I just hope that maybe I can produce a career like a lot of those guys have.''

As surprising as it was to see Micheel prevail, it was also surprising to see some of golf's biggest names unable to stop him. Weir, who began the day just three strokes off the lead, bogeyed his first five holes, shot 75, and tied for seventh place. Vijay Singh disappeared from contention, shooting a final-round 79. Phil Mickelson, still looking for his first major championship, couldn't break par after the first round, shot a final-round 75, and sank into a tie for 23rd place. Ernie Els, who tied for fifth, didn't make a birdie on the back nine. And Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player, tied for 39th place, with four consecutive rounds over par. It was the sixth consecutive major that Woods didn't win, and it marked the first year since 1998 that Woods went without a victory in the major tournaments.

The majors are no longer dominated by golf's elite. Dating back to Rich Beem's victory at the 2002 PGA, five consecutive majors have been won by players who had never won a major before. Just like Curtis, Micheel believed in himself more than he believed in his ranking. And when he had climbed out of the pressure cooker of Sunday's final round, Micheel walked off the green, embraced his wife and proudly walked away as the newest member of golf's major championship winners.

"I had a lot of anxiety today, a lot of anticipation,'' Micheel said. "To birdie the last hole of a major championship shows that I have the mental fortitude to get the job done.''

The scores (final round, $6 million PGA Championship at the 7,134-yard (6,491-metre), par-70 Oak Hill Country Club): Shaun Micheel, $1,080,000, 69-68-69-70 — 276; Chad Campbell, $408,000, 69-72-65-72 — 278; Timothy Clark, $408,000, 72-70-68-69 — 279; Alex Cejka, $288,000, 74-69-68-69 — 280; Jay Haas, $214,000, 70-74-69-69 — 282; Ernie Els, $214,000, 71-70-70-71 — 282; Loren Roberts, $175,666.67, 70-73-70-71 — 284; Fred Funk, $175,666.67, 69-73-70-72 — 284; Mike Weir, $175,666.67, 68-71-70-75 — 284.