Casey's hope for Ryder Cup berth

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The Independent Online

Paul Casey will take one giant step down the road to Detroit and the Ryder Cup today if he can hold his nerve, not to mention a three-shot lead, to win the Wales Open here.

Paul Casey will take one giant step down the road to Detroit and the Ryder Cup today if he can hold his nerve, not to mention a three-shot lead, to win the Wales Open here.

The 26-year-old is on the fringe of the qualification places for September's duel at Oakland Hills, and identified another €500,000 [£332,000] as the target to cement his berth. He will knock off €375,000 of those today should he withstand the challenge of Essex's Simon Khan, on 16 under, and South Africa's James Kingston, another two shots back in third.

The Midlander John Bickerton overcame swollen glands and a "builders from hell" episode at home to record the round of the day, a 63 that took him to 12 under. It also helped him to develop the theory that Celtic Manor is turning into a sanctuary for the pained and afflicted. Colin Montgomerie has seen something of a U-turn from his many personal problems this week and yesterday kept it going with a 69 - including a lost ball - which left him alongside Bickerton in the group on 12 under.

Casey, meanwhile, has spoken of "off-course issues" that have been distracting him of late, but he must have left them at the gate here as yesterday he was concentration personified on his way to a seven-under 65 to take him to 19 under par. Although he could not quite match Khan's hare-paced beginning to Friday's round, he still exited the traps like a greyhound, birdieing three of the first four holes to steal to the top of the leaderboard at the expense of his playing partner. Khan had metamorphosed from birdie king to par king overnight, although he did grab a birdie on the par-five fifth after chipping to three feet from the side of the bunker.

Unfortunately for him, however, Casey eagled the same hole after pinging a four-iron to six feet. Five under after five for the day, and Khan's heroics of the day previous were in danger of being mirrored. Two pars allayed that threat, but then a 12-foot putt off the fringe of the eighth green took him three clear at 18 under, which, when Khan bogeyed the 11th after the pair had traded pars, equated to a four-shot lead.

Then came the wobbles. Back-to-back bogeys on the 12th and 13th - the first a missed putt of three feet, the latter all of a foot and a half - brought him back to within two of the field. But not for long. A 25-footer on the 14th restored his three-shot margin and then another at the 15th took him four clear. Khan did birdie the 17th and matched Casey's four at the last to at least keep him in the sights.

"I would have taken that at the start of the day," said Casey, "but I can't help feeling that I left a few out there. The aim was to get to 20 under and I wasn't far away. I put my upturn in form down to my new attitude. I'm not letting the off-course stuff distract me here." Celtic Manor has that effect on golfers.

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