Casey stays cool in Ryder Cup stress rehearsal

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The Independent Online

The European Tour may as well stencil the words "Paul" and "Casey" permanently on their leaderboards, such is the regularity with which the young Englishman is troubling their scorers nowadays. He was at it again at the European Open yesterday, his six-under-par 66 taking him to within one of the first-round leaders, Niclas Fasth and Bradley Dredge, as the K Club stages its stress rehearsal for the Ryder Cup in three months' time.

Casey is already a certainty for that extravaganza, of course, a comforting fact that has allowed his own spotlight to switch to the Order of Merit and the Open Championship in a fortnight. If all that sounds pie in the sky, then his current run should be considered. Those pies could definitely land on his table.

In the 2006 campaign he has so far played 15 tournaments, won twice, finished in the top 10 nine times and been outside the top 20 only three times. Since mid-March, he has had eight starts, one victory, five top-five placings and six top 10s. In the other two events he came 11th and 15th, but as these were in the PGA Championship and the US Open respectively they hardly represented disasters. Add it all up and this is not a rich vein of form - this is a rich aorta.

Yesterday, after a morning only deflated in its glory by a bogey on his penultimate hole, Casey admitted that no, he had never experienced a patch so purple and yes, that in the midst of an inexplicable slump 12 months ago he probably never expected to. Then, on the tee, the ball would shrink to marble-like proportions and the fairways narrow to veritable copper-pipings. "Yeah, there were times I feared for the spectators lining the rough," he said. "I couldn't see how I could get around the course."

The nadir of his torment came in May last year at Wentworth when partnering Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els who winced at the sad wreck in front of them. "It hurt a lot but they were very, very supportive," he revealed. "They could see I was struggling and assured me I'd come through it." He never truly believed them, however, until September in Switzerland. The race for the Ryder Cup traditionally starts at the European Masters and this provided the crestfallen with the leverage he needed. "It was like the slate had been wiped clean," he said. "It gave me a really good goal, something to chase."

Now they are all chasing him - well, all but Fasth and Dredge. The Swede and Welshman are two of the most underrated players on Tour and maybe it is this injustice which makes them so desperate to earn a place in Ian Woosnam's side. "Trying not to think about it here is unavoidable," said Fasth peering over the Liffey at The Palmer Course being readied for September's showdown.

The 30,000 spectators allowed on to this Smurfit Course for free yesterday, courtesy of the Ulster Bank, certainly agreed. But it was another Ryder Cup banker they were most lauding; Paul Casey, the walking, stalking money machine.

European Open (K Club, County Kildare, Irl) Early leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 N Fasth (Swe), B Dredge. 66 P Casey, A Cabrera (Arg). 67 N Colsaerts (Bel), S Dodd, P O'Malley (Aus). 68 P Hanson (Swe), S Khan, J Spence, J Randhawa (Ind). 69 R Goosen (SA), G McDowell, I Garrido (Sp), S Kjeldsen (Den), A Hansen (Den), T Jaidee (Thai), C Montgomerie, D Clarke, D McGrane.70 P Dwyer, P Baker, P Harrington, P Broadhurst, S Webster, W Ormsby (Aus), A Coltart, L Westerberg (Swe), S Wakefield, R Sterne (SA), A Wall, J Donaldson, G Storm, J M Singh (Ind), L Westwood, P Gustafsson (Swe), M Lafeber (Ned), G Emerson, F Molinari (It).