Fit Casey boosts British challenge for Green Jacket

World No 6 beats shoulder injury as nation looks to end 14-year Masters drought
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The Independent Online

Britain's hopes of winning a first green jacket in 14 years received a sizeable boost last night when Paul Casey declared himself fit to tee it up in Thursday's first round. The world No 6 withdrew from last week's Houston Open with a shoulder injury but arrived here in Augusta yesterday with a smile to obliterate the foreboding.

"It was just because I slept on it awkwardly," revealed Casey. "I've had lots of treatment and it feels fine now. It was a schoolboy error but after what happened to me last year I wasn't going to take any chances."

Casey tore a rib muscle in the build-up to last year's Open Championship. He tried to play through the pain but in the process exacerbated the injury and ended up missing five months. There were inevitable fears that this complaint was linked to the previous one, but fortunately these concerns have proven unfounded. It means that England will have three members of the world's top 10 at the Masters – an unprecedented representation.

Casey is regarded as having a game eminently suited to Augusta and is strongly fancied to end the Masters drought stretching back to Nick Faldo's last victory in 1996. He certainly found himself in good company on the new practice range yesterday. Tiger Woods pitched up and hit balls in the bay next to the Englishman. "He looked serious," revealed Casey. "We had a chat and... no I'm not going to tell you what we talked about."

Perhaps it concerned the finale of the Houston tournament, where Casey would otherwise had been defending. Anthony Kim won his third PGA Tour title of his career by beating Vaugh Taylor in a play-off. The 24-year-old missed a five-footer in the last hole of regulation but held his nerve on the first sudden-death hole. Taylor bogeyed after finding bunkers off his tee-shot and his approach.

Kim overcame an erratic driving display to prevail. He was positively Seve-like in some of his recovery shots as he ended a barren spell. The American Ryder Cup player has struggled for the last 18 months, but for the first time yesterday Kim revealed how he has been suffering with a thumb injury. It is so serious that Kim is considering having surgery straight after Augusta, which will be a slight concern for Corey Pavin, the American captain.

Lee Westwood finished 4 shots behind in eigth after a final-round 71. The 36-year-old briefly held the lead in Friday's second round, raising the possibility of a win which would have taken him to No 2 in the world. But he endured a sloppy opening to his third round which saw him drop five shots. Nevertheless, Westwood is clearly in form and must also represent a big threat to a Woods comeback victory. Ian Poulter is the other English top-tenner and after arriving early in Augusta is supremely confident. Poulter has not played in a fortnight but believes he is "best fresh". "It doesn't get any better than this," said the WGC World Match Play champion. "I am so ready for this week."

Meanwhile, after taking the lead into the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first women's major of the season, Karen Stupples's challenge was ruined by a 78. The Englishwoman was trying to win the second major of her career but after compiling a one-stroke advantage with a third-round 68, Stupples ended up trailing by nine. Yani Tseng, from Taiwan, beat Norway's Suzann Petersen by a shot.

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