Khaldoon Al-Mubarak took time off from the Kaka saga yesterday to watch Paul Casey take a commanding lead in the third round of the Abu Dhabi Championship here. The ManchesterCity chairman must have been impressed. Perhaps not £100m imp-ressed, but impressed none the less.
Mr Mubarak refused to answer questions from reporters, insisting he was only here to see the golf. Casey's 63 was indeed as worthy of the audience as it was of the four-stroke advantage. This tournament had thus far been overshadowed by the extraordinary Ryder Cup captaincy developments – which have seen Colin Montgomerie established as a certainty to lead Europe atnext year's match in Newport – but yesterday the young Englishman strode into the sun with something resembling his old swagger.
This eight-time winner has been out of the winner's enclosure for far too long. Indeed, the last time he prevailed was here two years ago. Then, Casey sat in the desert and spoke of cracking the world's top 10. Now he is out of the top 40, and admitting the lost years since have hurt. "How much have I missed winning?" he asked after surging to 19 under. "A lot. It's not very fun not to win. I would happily trade all the made cuts in majors and stuff like that for victories That feeling of winning is very, very special."
It is an emotion with which he will be reacclimatised here this evening, barring his own meltdown on the greens or perhaps the ability of Martin Kaymer, the defending champion, to switch on the heat. The pair will be a fine advertisement for wintering in the Arizona desert, as both are members of Whisper Rock in Scottsdale and both looked across the fairways and admired the other's game over the Christmas break.
Kaymer's 65 really did not deserve to play second fiddle, and indeed but for a raft of missed putts in the opening six holes, the precocious 24-year-old could have drowned out the leader's standing ovation. As it was, the putting of Casey was the day's most notable instrument. Afterwards Casey said he could not remember the last time it felt so good, and neitherdid he much wish to scan his mind across the wasteland of yanked10-footers to make the comparison.It is attitude rather than anything technical that has, as he claims, "made me feel like I've turned a corner".
"In the past I've putted well when I've had to," explained the 31-year-old. He was talking about the mano a mano conflicts in which this streaky putter has enjoyed his best weeks. "In matchplay... you have a putt to halve the hole and it must go in.
"That's something I've been trying to emulate – not worrying about the next putt. The most important thing is this putt and attempting to make it. Hence I've run a couple by this week and then cleaned up nicely."
Meanwhile, Montgomerie remained on the fringes of the leaderboard with a 70 that left him on seven under. It hasn't been a bad performance considering the focus he has been under. However, there is now a certain freedom, as the captaincy issue is out of the bag. Sergio Garcia, for one, seems certain which way the committee will vote when they meet before the announcement in Dubai in 10 days' time.
"Jose Maria [Olazabal] wants to be captain but not right now," said Garcia, referring to his countryman whose procrastination led to Montgomerie being persuaded to fill the breach. "It's nice of Monty if he does step in."Reuse content