Cool Casey stays in the hunt

Shades of Faldo as Englishman shows mental strength to keep up with leading pack while Tiger lurks menacingly
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The Independent Online

Paul Casey last night transported the British golf fan back to the turn of the Nineties when a green jacket was considered standard wear for Europe's elite. Today the Englishman will attempt to prove his Masters performance here yesterday was no mere day-trip back to golfing wonderland.

After a 69, Casey has a chance to end the British drought stretching back to Nick Faldo's last Augusta triumph in 1996. He is fourth, four shots behind the leader Trevor Immelman, two off Brandt Snedeker and one off Steve Flesch. Indeed, on any other final day, Casey could be adjudged an outstanding candidate to triumph, regardless of his nationality. That he isn't is down to the magnificence of Immelman and one other man, who really does not need any introduction.

Tiger Woods was born to play rounds such as this sweet 68 that spiralled him into contention at five under par. Yet Casey should not be too alarmed, for Woods has never won a major when not holding the lead after three rounds, and he does happen to hold a two-shot advantage over the world No 1. "There's not many guys ahead of me," warned Woods. "So a lot of it is dependent on what they do."

Casey would be far better off focusing on his own suitability to this layout – and his own form. His sixth place on his debut here in 2004 and another top 10 last year have marked him down as eminently suited to Augusta and two intensive weeks of practice with his coach, Peter Kostis, have effected a startling turnaround in a game that has at best been average so far in 2008.

Last night, Kostis revealed the pair had concentrated on Casey being able "to imagine his shots". The ploy has clearly worked. Suddenly he has looked, and yes sounded, like Paul Casey again; the talent who 18 months ago collected the £1m cheque when winning the World Match Play at Wentworth. Kostis has no doubts about his pupil's ability to grab glory this afternoon. "When I look at the young players around the world Paul has the best mental approach of any of them," he said. "And that's why I believe he's the best equipped to win a major."

Casey certainly proved himself equipped to stay in the hunt on a day when the soft turf and calm conditions made good scoring a must. Alongside him in the top 10 is Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, although at two under their chances appear too remote. The former shot a 69 but the latter, starting at five under, could not live with the pace set by Immelman – or that of Casey, whose peerless front nine got the ball rolling and the heart skipping.

Casey should have birdied the first following a tremendous recovery from a fairway bunker that he somehow worked to eight feet. He missed that and others at the sixth and the eighth, but in between and thereafter there was little profligacy. Immelman's nerve wobbled and then emphatically came back again as the South African came home in 33, but Casey's remained largely consistent. In the slipstream of a birdie at the par-five second, a 12-footer at the fifth, 20-footer at the seventh and six-footer at the ninth took him out in 32, which was the lowest of the day. Yet Kostis remarked: "If Paul had taken all his chances that could easily have been a 29. But I don't think he was moaning at being four under after nine."

Far from it, Casey was strutting and despite a bogey when he three-putted from 80 feet on the 11th, he was back among the red figures when he birdied the par-five 13th. That took him into a share of the lead with Immelman and Snedeker.

Casey fell back, but displayed the strength of his psyche by bouncing straight back from a bogey on the 15th, hitting to eight feet on the par-three 16th. Despite another bogey on the 17th, his round was one of the shining lights of an enthralling day.

Saying that, Woods takes some overshadowing in this mood. The American networks billed their coverage as "a legendary Saturday Tiger charge at The Masters" and he did not disappoint. Well, he did, but only himself ever so slightly. "That [68] was the highest I could have shot today," said Woods, who broke 70 at Augusta for the first time in 12 rounds. "I hit the ball so well. I didn't hole any putts, apart from the one on the 10th."

That 12-footer propelled Woods into the top 10 for the first time this week and the significance could be heard on the breeze. Something happens when his name appears on the leaderboard; as much to himself as to everyone else. A two-putt birdie on the 13th took him to four under, then a second wedge to hole-side in as many days on the 17th to five under and into the top five. But it was what came to pass on the 18th that truly had the cheers ringing out.

Woods sliced his drive into the trees and appeared to have no option but to chip out sideways. Yet where others see obstacles, the Tiger spots gaps. The eight-iron he threaded through the branches was Seve reincarnate; the ensuing six-footer for par was sheer Woods.

"I played my way back into the tournament, no doubt about it," he said. The sight of his nemesis, Phil Mickelson, slipping to two under will only stiffen his conviction. As, undoubtedly, will the records he will dismantle should he overhaul the six-shot deficit and win his 14th major.

If Woods is to don his fifth green jacket this evening he will have effected the second biggest Masters comeback in history. In 1956 Jack Burke was eight behind at halfway and still prevailed. In 2005 Woods was six back at the same point and came through.

The difference was that three years ago there were only two out in front of him. When he set out yesterday there were 12 ahead, and seven more alongside him. Now there are but four. One of them happens to be Casey. The greatest challenge of his life awaits.

The leaderboard

(US unless stated, par 72)

205 Trevor Immelman (SA) 68 68 69

207 Brandt Snedeker 69 68 70

208 Steve Flesch 72 67 69

209 Paul Casey (Eng) 71 69 69

211 Tiger Woods 72 71 68

212 Stewart Cink 72 69 71

214 Zach Johnson 70 76 68, Boo Weekley 72 74 68, Padraig Harrington (Ire) 74 71 69, Andres Romero (Arg) 72 72 70, Robert Karlsson (Swe) 70 73 71, Sean O'Hair 72 71 71, Retief Goosen (SA) 71 71 72, Ian Poulter (Eng) 70 69 75, Phil Mickelson 71 68 75

215 Vijay Singh (Fij) 72 71, Lee Westwood (Eng) 69 73 73, Arron Oberholser 71 70 74

216 Adam Scott (Aus) 75 71 70 Jim Furyk 70 73 73, J B Holmes 73 70 73, Mike Weir (Can) 73 68 75

217 Jeev Milkha Singh (India) 71 74 72, Nick Watney 75 70 72, Brian Bateman 69 76 72, Nick Dougherty (Eng) 74 69 74, Stephen Ames (Can) 70 70 77

218 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 74 72 72 Stuart Appleby (Aus) 76 70 72, Justin Leonard 72 74 72, Robert Allenby (Aus) 72 74 72, Angel Cabrera (Arg) 73 72 73, Bubba Watson 74 71 73, Richard Sterne (SA) 73 72 73

219 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 77 70 72, David Toms 73 74 72, Justin Rose (Eng) 68 78 73

220 Johnson Wagner 72 74

221 Niclas Fasth (Swe) 75 70 76

222 Todd Hamilton 74 73 75, Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 75 71 76, Ian Woosnam (Wal) 75 71 76

224 Heath Slocum 71 76 77

225 K J Choi (SKor) 72 75 78, Sandy Lyle (Sco) 72 75 78

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