Casey lays ideal foundation for Masters assault

Paul Casey gave himself the perfect preparation for this week's US Masters when he won his first PGA Tour title in a play-off here at the Houston Open yesterday. Casey, only the sixth Englishman to win on the US tour, sealed victory with a bogey five at the first extra hole where big-hitting American JB Holmes double-bogeyed after driving into water.

The pair had finished the 72 regulation holes on 11-under-par 277, Casey bogeying the last for a 72 and Holmes closing with a six-birdie 69 at Redstone Golf Club. Tour veteran Fred Couples, bidding for his first victory on the US circuit since winning this event back in 2003, was a further two strokes behind in a tie for third.

Couples slipped out of the lead on the back nine and bogeyed the last three holes to finish level with Sweden's Henrik Stenson (70) and Australia's Nick O'Hern (70).

Casey moves into the top 10 in the rankings for the first time as he bids to take this form into the Masters, and he appeared overwhelmed by emotion after he two-putted to seal the win on the first sudden-death hole.

Casey had only needed a par there in regulation to claim his maiden US title but the 18th had seen more double bogeys than pars during the final round. The Englishman produced a superb drive over the water but put his second shot into a bunker and failed with his chip, leaving the ball well short of the pin. He missed the 20-foot putt but rolled in from two foot out to seal a play-off against Holmes, who finished his round some two hours earlier.

That delay seemed to tell in the play-off as Holmes struck his drive straight into the water on the left of the fairway, while Casey managed to find the sand down the right with his tee shot.

Holmes reached the lower level of the green with his fourth shot, while Casey found the ridge some 20 feet out in three strokes. Needing to make an unlikely recovery and hole his 50-foot putt to maintain the pressure , Holmes came up short, leaving Casey with two shots to take the title. His first putt finished two feet short but he kept his composure and rolled the ball in to claim a memorable victory.

*Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey beat Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño on the third hole of a play-off to win the Estoril Portuguese Open at Oitavos Dunes yesterday for his first European Tour title.

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