PAUL CASEY yesterday claimed his 12th European Tour title in dramatic fashion but admitted it felt like his first after fearing for his career following years of injury problems.
Casey overturned a four-shot deficit in the final round of the Irish Open at Carton House thanks to a closing 67 which featured five birdies in six holes around the turn and a decisive eagle three on the 18th from 45ft.
That score – four shots better than anyone in the last 12 groups in strong winds and a brief torrential downpour – gave the 35-year-old a total of 14 under par, three shots clear of playing partner Robert Rock (71) and overnight leader Joost Luiten, who had been looking for his second win in three events but could only manage a 74.
Spain's Pablo Larrazabal – who had pleaded with officials to suspend play when the rain hit while he was on the 10th green – finished fourth after a closing 75, with former Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal a shot further back in a five-way tie for fifth.
"Psychologically this is huge," said Casey whose last European Tour win came in Bahrain in January 2011.
"It feels like a first win again. I have struggled with the confidence and this is a huge relief knowing I am moving in the right direction.
"I have great golf in me for 10 years plus. This is a massive confidence boost."
Casey was ranked third in the world in 2009, but began the week 169th after form and fitness problems, most notably after suffering a broken collarbone while snowboarding in late 2011.
He also went through a painful divorce around the same time and admitted he feared that he would never rediscover the form which brought him three consecutive Ryder Cup appearances – the first two of them record wins – from 2004.
"It's difficult to pinpoint a moment but there was a period where I really struggled with getting the shoulder back where I wanted it and I probably came back too early because the swing changed trying to protect the shoulder," added Casey, who hailed the influence of his coach Peter Kostis, who is currently recovering from colon cancer.
"Peter is more than my golf coach, he's my life coach and I'm like his adopted son. He has never stopped believing in me and for that I can never thank him enough."
Casey will now turn his attentions to trying to win the Scottish Open to qualify for the Open Championship at Muirfield, with Justin Rose's recent US Open triumph a massive inspiration.
"That really lit the fire," Casey added. "Justin's victory was phenomenal and I was so proud of what he did and how he handled himself.
"It's well documented how he struggled at the beginning of his career and I have seen the work he has put in to become one of the best players in the world. I desperately want to be in control of my game and winning championships again".
Casey had to scramble pars at the opening two holes to remain four behind Luiten and it was Olazabal who made the biggest early move, going to the turn in 33 and picking up another shot on the 10th to move into a share of the lead.
However, the 47-year-old – who won the Irish Open in 1990 and whose last European Tour win was back in 2005 – would bogey four of the last eight holes as Casey took up the charge with four birdies in a row from the eighth.
Another on the 13th gave him a three-shot lead, only for bogeys at the 15th and 16th to see that cut back to one before Luiten also bogeyed the 16th.
Casey had avoided looking at leaderboards and was therefore unaware of the exact situation, but made certain of the win by hitting a three-iron from the rough onto the 18th green and holing the eagle putt before punching the air in delight.
"I'm absolutely thrilled," Casey added. "I've always wanted a grandstand finish and I've never holed a putt like that to win a tournament before."
Shane Lowry hit a final round 69 to finish six shots behind the winner on 280, alongisde Lurgan's Gareth Shaw, who matched Lowry's score yesterday.
Peter Lawrie was a shot back on 281 after a final round 71.