Masters injury fear for Casey after Houston withdrawal

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The Independent Online

Just when England believed it would be heading into next week's Masters with an unprecedented number of representatives in the world's top 10, so a Paul Casey injury cast doubt over the optimism. A shoulder complaint has already done for the defence of his Houston Open title and he left here yesterday fearing for his Augusta chances, too.

The world No 5 could certainly be forgiven for fearing the worst after the torn rib muscle last July which ended up costing him the rest of his season. Casey felt the pain come on in Wednesday's pro-am and although he claimed "it is completely separate from what I had before" his angst was obvious when he was forced to withdraw before the first round. He is determined not to make the mistakes of 2009.

"I tried to play through the injury one, two weeks and it ended up costing me six months," he said. "So the last thing I can afford is to try to push it. I won't hit golf balls for at least a couple of days." Casey went on to describe himself as "very, very tight in the neck and shoulders". "I have difficulty moving the hands and rotating the neck," he explained. "I'm not able to get the club into the position I need to swing it properly."

Casey is widely regarded as Britain's best hope of ending the 14-year drought which extends back to Nick Faldo's last Masters victory. Lee Westwood, ranked one place better than Casey, tipped his compatriot here on Wednesday. "Paul has got a great game for Augusta because he hits it high," he said. And Casey, himself, concurred, particularly after a rousing start to the season. "Augusta just suits my game and although my debut [sixth in 2004] remains my best, I'm maturing as a golfer every year," he said. "I'm more ready now to win a major than I've ever been." Those comments surely prove how tense the next few days will be.

If that was a massive negative then Justin Rose provided an unexpected positive. Only a win here will see Rose qualify and an opening two-under par 70 left him handily placed, three behind the pacesetter Kevin Stadler and one off a group including Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington.

What a difference a week makes. After a 75 at Bay Hill last Thursday, Rose cast a beaten figure, muttering "there will be other Masters". He duly missed the cut and headed home for a few weeks off. By Saturday he had changed his mind and his attitude. "I'm not the type of person to give up," he said. "I want to win majors and realised I have to do everything I can to get in them. If I am watching The Masters from the sofa next Thursday I will be much happier knowing I played at Houston."

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