PAUL CASEY defied superstition and dire warnings from Ian Poulter by remaining all week in Room 666 at the Ritz-Carton in Bahrain -- and ended-up with his first victory in 20 months at the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in the oil-rich Arabian Kingdom.
Cruel misfortune instead befell Casey's closest challenger, Peter Hanson, on the 72nd hole at The Royal Golf Club when his ball landed twice in evil lies, first in the rough and then in a footprint in a greenside trap. The resulting bogey five left Hanson cursing his bad luck on 19-under par, one behind Casey, with whom he'd engaged in an intriguing duel all afternoon after they'd entered the final day locked together on 16-under.
"To catch two unplayable lies on the one hole is unbelievable," said Hanson after his 69. "I'm pretty upset. I thought someone trod on my ball but you can get a bad lie in the rough. However, to have someone not rake a bunker is pretty infuriating," he added. "Yet, to be fair, Paul played steady golf as well and came out just a bit better today."
Spookily, Darren Clarke had three sixes on his card.
The first bad omen came at the par-five ninth, where a couple of diabolical duffed chips at the back of the green led to a bogey which sorely dented the Dungannon man's hopes of clinching a first victory on Tour since August 2008.
Just one stroke off the lead as he set out, Clarke (42) had hit the front with birdies at the first and third. However, he'd ultimately sign for a 73 and finish in a five-way tie for eighth on 14-under.
A cheque for €34,986 was poor consolation indeed after an ill-starred double-bogey six at the last had brought "a disappointing round to a very disappointing conclusion.
"It was one of those days when everything was very slightly off," he added. "What happened at 18 summed it all up -- I leaked the drive, it went into the water, then my approach shot bounced off a sprinkler head and went into a bunker."
Yet the damage had been done earlier, particularly at nine. "That little patch at the back of that green was not the same as the rest of the turf, it's softer," he explained. "The easier option was to putt it or chip and run it but I was thinking of holing it and just got two completely wrong."
Clarke's mood was even darker walking off the green at the par-five 13th after missing a four-foot putt for par.
As the early starters made hay in balmy sunshine, Padraig Harrington (71), Peter Lawrie (71) and Michael Hoey (77) all had mazy, crazy final rounds.
Though he fired off four birdies in his first six holes, Harrington's final five were pure slapstick as he slid into 58th place (worth €5,440).
After failing to save par from a greenside swale at 14, the Dubliner chipped-in from 20 yards at 15 for an unlikely four after hitting his tee shot into water. He missed the green at the daunting 220-yard 16th and then three-putted from close range for double-bogey; he dropped another shot at 17 and then rounded it off with a birdie at 18.
Confirming he'd reverted to working on swing changes at the weekend as his hopes expired, Harrington confessed: "I got caught up between swing thoughts. I hit lots of nice shots but also some poor shots and it was a bit frustrating at times. The early rounds in any year always show up a few weaknesses and I've a bit of work to do on my wedge play and chipping and things like that before going to Pebble Beach next week. But, overall, I feel good about my game."
Lawrie amassed 19 birdies over 72 holes but still finished on four-under, one behind Harrington in 59th (worth €5,100), leading the Castleknock man to conclude: "There was a lot of good and a lot of bad as well."
Despite a solid final-round 67, Miguel Angel Jimenez surely wondered if he'd have been better off putting with his lob-wedge at the weekend as he finished in a tie for second with Hanson. That trusty wedge had been a super stand-in when the Spaniard snapped his putter in two on Friday.
Casey looked unbeatable after defying the fabled 'mark of the beast' on his hotel room door. He won an eve-of-tournament pro-am for the first time last Wednesday. Then he and Clarke both collected a €32,000 car after teaming up with English businessman Kevin Aherne (53) to finish first in Saturday's innovative pro-am format.
Clutching his €283,880 winner's cheque yesterday, Casey revealed: "Poulter was giving me grief again over dinner last night for my room number. He said he'd have checked out if he'd been given room 666."
After his controversial omission from the Ryder Cup last October, Casey now has managed to get something back from Monty -- the European Ryder Cup skipper designed the new course at Royal Bahrain.