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Micheel's victory, shock or expected?

Shaun Micheel's shock victory at the U.S. PGA Championship on Sunday can be viewed in two very different ways.

It was either the biggest surprise in a year of four surprise major winners, or else a richly deserved success always likely to happen with the global game now enjoying greater depth than ever before.

Taking the first viewpoint, Micheel's two-shot triumph completed a clean sweep of first-time winners at this year's majors, following the breakthrough victories achieved by Mike Weir (U.S. Masters), Jim Furyk (U.S. Open) and Ben Curtis (British Open).

Granted, Canadian left-hander Weir and the unorthodox-swinging Furyk had been knocking at the winner's door for some time, but Curtis's remarkable performance last month ranks as one of the biggest surprises in major championship history.

The 27-year-old American rookie, ranked a lowly 396 in the world and a 300-1 outsider at the start of the tournament, clinched the 132nd British Open by a stroke from Dane Thomas Bjorn and Fiji's Vijay Singh.

However, the little-known Curtis had been rated the world's leading amateur before he turned professional in 2000 and, by the end of his career, his pivotal week at the British Open may come to be viewed as much less of a surprise.

The 34-year-old Micheel, however, has ricocheted between the PGA Tour and minor circuits in the United States, Asia and Southern Africa since turning professional in 1992.

In 163 previous starts, he had failed to win on the PGA Tour and began last week better known for diving into a river in 1993 to save an elderly couple from their car than for his wins at the 1998 Singapore Open and the 1999 Greensboro Open.

Journeyman Micheel was exactly that, and no one would have been at all surprised if he had gone on to end his career winless on the PGA Tour.

Curtis versus Micheel. Given the two players' contrasting backgrounds in the game, Micheel's stunning U.S. PGA Championship triumph has to be regarded as more of a surprise than Curtis's shock victory at Sandwich.

"I really can't believe this has happened to me," Micheel said on Sunday, after receiving his winner's cheque for $1.08 million. "After last week (when he tied for 60th at The International), I was just trying to make the cut.

"I know that sounds pretty simple, but really that was my main goal, and I probably would have been happy with that."

If we take viewpoint two, however, then Micheel's achievement in becoming the seventh player to clinch the U.S. PGA Championship at the first attempt should come as no surprise at all.

Golf has never known greater depth in player quality, as pointed out by world number one Tiger Woods.

"The depth on the tour is just getting that much deeper," he said at Oak Hill. "The guys' techniques are better, they are more consistent, and our equipment is better, more forgiving.

"You add all that in, guys are just more talented. This year, every major championship winner has been a first-time winner of a major. There's a lot of depth, and a pretty good talent pool on the PGA Tour."

U.S. Masters champion Weir, three off the lead going into the final round at Oak Hill before sinking his hopes of a second major in 2003 with five bogeys in his first five holes, agrees.

"I think everybody is raising their game a little bit," he said. "The guys aren't afraid to do it and they've got enough experience.

"Shaun hadn't won before, but he's been out here long enough that maybe he has got a nice comfort level with his swing and his game. He finished it off well here."

Surprise or not, Micheel won the 85th U.S. PGA Championship on a brutally tough layout simply because he was the best after the regulation 72 holes.

He won it in style, striking one of the most memorable shots in major championship golf when he hit his seven-iron approach at the last to just two inches. That earned him his 21st birdie of the week, four more than anyone else and a staggering 15 ahead of Woods.

 

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