Casey's birthday cake has bitter taste after the unkindest cut

 

So, the first order of business today is to wish Paul Casey a happy birthday. Sadly, while having a day off with family and friends might sound perfect for such an occasion, what Casey would really like is still to be playing in The Open.

But a tee-off time at Royal Lytham this morning is one of those things money cannot buy. Not when your total score for the first 36 holes is 11 over par.

It would be no consolation that another of the game's biggest names, Phil Mickelson, was on the same mark and also bereft of a game today.

This has been a curious season for both Casey and Mickelson. At least the American collected a win earlier in the year, at Pebble Beach when being paired with Tiger Woods in the final round seemed to spur him into action. He had a chance to win the Masters going into the last day but otherwise his game has been lacking its usual sparkle.

For Casey, things just go from bad to worse. It was not that long ago he was ranked third in the world. Now he is likely to fall outside the top 80. Various injuries have dented both form and confidence. The latest mishap was a snowboarding accident on Christmas Eve. He says the shoulder injury is now mended but his game is still a work in progress. Only recently has Casey been able to play a sequence of tournaments pain-free but he has now missed the cut in his last five appearances.

His front nine of the first round here at Lytham was his best golf of the year. He was out in 31, three under par, but then played the next 27 holes in 14 over. He went out of bounds in a burger van on the 15th on Thursday and yesterday, despite a birdie at the second, there were three double bogeys, including sevens at both par fives, in a 79.

Golf has a way of punishing those in search of the magic formula but Casey, who turns 35 today, has surely suffered enough. Sympathy may not help him to get the ball in the hole any quicker but many are those wishing to see a return to the golfing high life for a player once considered England's next major winner.

Mickelson admitted yesterday that he does not know what is wrong with his game or how to put it right. After his 73 on Thursday he said he had "putted poorly, drove it horrifically and the chipping was below average". But Butch Harmon, his coach, had spotted something they could work on and they did just that after the round despite finishing well into the evening hours.

It was to no avail. Like Casey, Mickelson had three double-bogeys and a liberal sprinkling of three-putts, including at the last. A virtual tap-in went astray on the final green, a sad way to bow out for last year's runner-up. At Sandwich, Mickelson put on a thrilling charge on the final day but Darren Clarke rebuffed the American's best-ever attempt to claim the Claret Jug.

Unlike for Luke Donald, and against the expectation of most, including the third member of their group, Geoff Ogilvy, there was no charge yesterday. So there will be none tomorrow. "I just imagined he would come out and play well today," said Ogilvy. "He was doing all right so where did it unravel? It wasn't that far off."

A couple of low rounds at Castle Stuart last week at the Scottish Open had proved a false dawn. The family holiday in Italy that got cancelled so Mickelson could play in Inverness was ultimately for nothing. Right now for Mickelson and Casey, trying to find the answer to the mysteries of golf is proving as futile as a search for the Loch Ness Monster.

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