Casey falls to earth after magical fortnight

Frankly, Paul Casey would have preferred to have been in bed. Teeing off first on a Saturday morning at a regular tournament is not like the Ryder Cup. Just take away several thousand people - and decibels.

If ever a player was spent, this was Casey here at The Grove. The World Match Play champion, and one of the stars of Europe's Ryder Cup victory, had enjoyed his finest fortnight but this was one week too far. "I am exhausted," the 29-year-old said. "I'm trying like hell but nothing is happening."

With no halfway cut in the Amex Championship, Casey, at seven-over, and Frenchman Grégory Bourdy, at nine-over, got the action under way. Casey returned a 72, one-over-par, with a few bright spots, like his 20-footer for birdie at the 17th. But the lack of inspiration was obvious, too, as when he took four to get down from just short of the green at the last, one of three bogeys in the last four holes.

"I tried so hard the first two days and that didn't work, so I tried to try less hard today, but that didn't work either," added the Englishman. "I'm making errors and poor swings. My body is lethargic, my legs aren't moving. But I feel I should be out here, giving people the odd smile, even if it was mainly my brother and his mates."

He thought of withdrawing from the final round but hoped a trip to the gym, the first since before Wentworth, would re-energise him. News that there is a two-tee start today, with the stragglers last off the 10th tee, will give him an unexpected lie in. Casey's triumph at Wentworth gave Europe a rallying cry when he said he cared more for a victory at the Ryder Cup than his £1 million prize. At the K Club he scored three points out of four, after two halved fourballs with Robert Karlsson, a win in the foursomes with David Howell in a match he terminated with a hole-in-one at the 14th and then a singles victory over Jim Furyk.

"Those two weeks are as good as I've done in golf," Casey said. "It would have been nice to win one of the fourballs but I was very happy to come out of the week unbeaten. The half points are as important as the full points. And then playing Jim, I knew it was going to be one of the toughest matches. I really wanted to play a big role this time."

With Luke Donald and Howell sitting on the sidelines more than expected, Casey emerged as one of Ian Woosnam's strong men while senior figures like Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke helped behind the scenes. "They were brilliant. They put their arm around you and give you so much encouragement. They let you know you have an important part to play."

The aftermath of Casey's Ryder Cup debut two years ago was marred when some unguarded comments about "hating" the Americans were blown up into a diplomatic row. He admitted mistakes and learnt this lesson. "I needed to sort myself out," he said. A fallow year followed but he has emerged stronger. At the start of the year he was not even qualified for the Players Championship and the Masters. Now he is 17th in the world and will make his debut in Tiger Woods' 16-man event in California in December. Confidence remains a trademark but he appears more thoughtful, about what he says, what he wants to achieve and how he will do it.

A short-term goal is the Order of Merit. He overtook Howell at Wentworth but the Swindon man will probably regain the advantage today. The Dunhill Links this week and the Volvo Masters at Valderrama later in the month will be crucial.

"With 'Howeller' having a good week here I have to play well at St Andrews," he said. "Hopefully, it will go down to the wire at Valderrama." Long term there is the little matter of winning major championships, something Europe has been without of late despite their Ryder Cup running over. "The challenge is there," Casey said. "I think we have the talent but the guys need to get comfortable with everything that goes with winning a major. I think some of them are close. Luke desperately wants to win a major, and Sergio, too."

Casey, as well, you can be assured. But whatever the triumphs there will always be days in golf like those here at The Grove.

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