Casey dreams of being man of the Match Play

Click to follow
The Independent Sport

The quickest of sifts through the results book of the Accenture World Match Play will tell you that Paul Casey has about as much right to feel confident heading into Tucson this week as Will Cane had of getting out of Hadleyville in High Noon. Four times Casey has contested America's version of the World Match Play and four times he has been shot down in the very first round. This is not form, this is a stretch.

But if Casey displays a slight swagger as he takes the short ride down from his Scottsdale residence he can be forgiven, because this time there are a few reasons for optimism. The first is the course - or, more to the point, the change of course. "I didn't get on with the one they used to play it on, to be honest," he said, referring to the jettisoned Carlsbad layout down in California. "So I am excited they moved it to Dove Mountain. It is a classic desert course, and although I am not saying it is easy, I am far more familiar with this type of golf."

Casey should be by now, as he has made a couple of recon-naissance visits during this past week. That is not in the usual remit of this young Englishman, but he unashamedly fancies making his mark this week. As he points out, come Wednesday's opening match, which looks likely to be against Darren Clarke, he will be undefeated in golf's mano a mano format for a year, having won the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in September before going on to the Ryder Cup the following week to gain two wins and two halves. "It would be a nice double," he admitted. "Although it would mean much more to me than just that."

What it would essentially mean to Casey would be a touch more credibility to a reputation which is already creaking under it. Having prevailed in Abu Dhabi on his first start of the year, the 29-year-old leapt up the world rankings to stand on the brink of the top 10.

"It was my goal," he said. "If we agree that Tiger Woods is out there on his own and that under him there is a separate group of players chasing him, then I would like to think of myself in that group, or at least close to joining them. Winning the HSBC and beating [Jim] Furyk in the Ryder Cup singles helped me to believe that."

Peter Kostis might also claim to have been of some assistance. It is the constant urging of the coach he first met while studying at Arizona State University that Casey credits with turning the nightmare of 2005 into the dream of 2006.

"It's funny, but at the start of last year I was just so focused on getting back in the top 50 that when I did, it would have been easy to say, 'Ah, I've done that now' and then flatlined," he said. "Peter pushed me very hard and said, 'We've got to do this, we've got to achieve that'. So I saw there was a glimmer of getting into the Wentworth Match Play and I went for that. Then I win the thing and think, 'Crikey, I can win the Order of Merit', and so I went for that.

"And then this year, Peter made a point of sitting me down and establishing goals for the events in the Middle East. 'Right, let's win one of those and get close to the top 10', he said, and I did. He's made me see that having short-term goals is the best policy, not looking and dreaming too far ahead. If I just keep it in segments, it works for me."

But not everything is so straightforward. In Abu Dhabi, Casey wondered aloud how Woods was able to summon the same levels of intensity for every event he played in. As yet, he does not seem any closer to an answer. "Tiger plays every single week the same, whether it's the Buick, Dubai or The Open, with the same focus, the same will to win," he said. "I don't know how. I do remember one thing he said to me: 'A day without adrenalin is a day wasted'. There must be something in that."

Woods may not be quite so willing to divulge any more of his trade secrets, though, as in Casey he must see a rival who come April may be a genuine challenger in the Masters.

"I do like that place," Casey said, thinking back to his remarkable sixth-place finish on his debut. "Why? Well, the decision-making process has already been made for you at Augusta. Now, at an Open you can do whatever: go left, right, go high, go low, whatever, and in that environment sometimes I feel difficult committing to the choice I have made. Now at Augusta you know what you've got to do. Here's your shot, you've got a hanging lie, you've got to hit six-iron over water and stop it in 10 feet. That's it, the decision's been made and it's just whether you have the courage and physical ability to do it. That's probably why I like it so much. Because I don't have to think."