USPGA Championship 2013 blog: Magical Micheel

Sitting here, writing this, I can scarcely believe the last major tournament to be held at Oak Hill was 10 years ago. I can remember the 2003 USPGA Championship so vividly, and I still don’t think there’s been a more captivating major in the intervening decade.

Yes, there have been more glamourous major championships since then, but that tournament had it all: the drama, the intrigue, the skill, the incredible control of nerve amid unprecedented pressure, one of the best shots I’ve ever seen and one of the most unexpected winners in major championship history.

I was 14 years old at the time, and the 2003 USPGA Championship turned by liking for golf into a full-blown obsession. No, Tiger Woods wasn’t in contention. In fact, only one of the world’s top 10 finished inside the top 20. But that didn’t matter.

It was at that point I realised why golf was such a great sport: anyone in the field can win any tournament on any given day, and the world’s top-ranked players don’t have to be in contention to create a wonderful, drama-fuelled, nerve-shredding spectacle.

The 2003 PGA Championship came at the end of a season of first-time major winners: Mike Weir at the Masters, Jim Furyk at the US Open and, sensationally, world number 368 Ben Curtis at the Open Championship. And the unexpected vain was about to continue.

Before the start of the tournament, only the most diligent golf fans knew of Shaun Micheel. He came into the tournament as the world number 169 and a man who hadn’t won a PGA Tour event in 163 starts on the circuit.

Still, anything can happen in a major championship.

On Thursday, Micheel compiled a solid one-under-par 69 and followed up with a second-round 68 to claim the 36-hole lead.

Despite never having experienced such pressure, he played his first 15 holes on Saturday in four-under-par, but three consecutive bogies to finish convinced many his foray into the spotlight would be a short lived affair; that he’d stumble to an 80-something final round and fall back to middle-of-the-road mediocrity. But Micheel had other ideas.

In a pulsating final round, Tim Clark, Micheel and fellow overnight leader Chad Campbell – all seeking their first majors – exchanged blows atop the leaderboard as the tournament built towards a crescendo.

With three holes remaining, it was looking like a two-horse race. Micheel bogied 15 to fall back to three under, while playing partner Campbell narrowed the gap to one shot with a fine birdie two. Standing on the 18th tee, the gap was still one.

Micheel’s tee shot found the left semi-rough, while Campbell dispatched a blistering drive straight down the middle. At that point, a play-off seemed a perfectly feasible reality. Again, Micheel had other ideas.

His seven-iron pitched over the grassy bank fronting the pouting surface, landed on the green, took three hops and settled two inches away from the cup. It was one of the best pressure shots of all time and a fitting climax to a tournament that was scintillating from start to finish.

Let’s hope we see similar levels of drama and excitement at Oak Hill this time around.