The second-highest ranked player going into this Open Championship just happens to be British. Which may surprise a few people, including Andy Murray. How he must look at Paul Casey and dream "if only".
While he enters Wimbledon with his nation expecting, Casey will stride into the golfing equivalent with the nation's anoraks expecting. Or at least those geeks whose analysis of a golfer's standing starts and stops in the unfathomable columns of the rankings. In the real world, however, for Murray-mania do not read Casey-clamour.
Naturally, Casey seems to be quite happy about this. "I can't imagine what it's like for Andy Murray," he said. "Tennis is all about winning. Andy spends 90 percent-plus of his time winning. Golfers don't do that – well, unless you're Tiger Woods. So that's why the hype isn't there in golf. And I think that's a good thing."
Of course, there are other reasons for this anomaly in expectation. For instance, Casey is not a lone fish trying to swim against a 73-year tide; as he confessed, he is just one of a sizeable school in pursuit of Britain's first major in a decade. ("There's Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher, Justin Rose, have I missed anyone? Oh yeah, Luke Donald," he said). But still, as world No 3, he is the big fish, who, because of Phil Mickelson's withdrawal, has been made that little bigger. The nation might not be doing much expecting but the press certainly is.
When Casey arrived in the media centre here yesterday he said he was pretty sure he would be asked a Colin Montgomerie question. But he probably did not expect the nature of this particular query. The last Briton to tee it up in the Open rated the second-best player in the field was the Scot in 1996. Surely that will bring its pressures for Casey, particularly as nobody from these shores has won an Open since Paul Lawrie in 1999?
"I feel very comfortable with the extra attention," replied Casey. "Since I've been world No 3, the attention hasn't bothered me. Maybe it was a little bit strange for the first couple of weeks, but I feel absolutely fine with it now. I accept what it takes to win a major and what comes with it. If I play well there's no reason why I can't win."
It was palpably not that way in 2004 at Troon when Casey led after the first round. "I'm a very different player now than I was back then," he said recalling the 66 which allowed him his maiden visit to the back pages. "Yes, it probably was quite scary and yes I probably was a little out of my depth. I think I finished 20th that year. I'm a lot more comfortable standing on the first tee, anywhere, even if it's the Open Championship. But saying that, I would love to have that start here."
In truth, it has not been the beginning or even the middle of majors where Casey has struggled to get into contention – it has been the conclusion itself. Chances have presented themselves with spectacular rounds and then misrepresented themselves just as quickly with spectacular blow-ups. "I know how to win and I think the win in [the] Houston [Open] earlier in the season was huge," Casey said. "To finally get that win in the States – I've wanted that for a long time. And the next thing on the list is the big stuff, the majors. It's not good enough to be tied for the lead the last nine holes to go. I want to be tied for the lead or one shot back or one shot ahead with three or four to go. That's when it really counts and I'll see what I'm made of, then. I happen to think I'd have a pretty good shot."
Turnberry is as good a place to find out as any, and not just because he has thus far enjoyed a season which has seen him perform a staggering rise from 43rd in the world. The Ailsa Course holds a special affection for Casey. "This is my favourite links golf course," he said. "Why? It's a combination of the aesthetic beauty and the toughness and the strategy. It's got some brilliant golf holes. I think 16th is one of my favourite in the world. You've just got to stand up and hit great golf shots around this golf course. You have to make great decisions as well. I stood on some of the tees today with Justin and Nick [Dougherty] and it took all of us a while to figure out exactly what we're going to do. You're given so many options."
Casey needs no reminding of the penalties for choosing unwisely. "I played in the Amateur Championship here in 1996 when I was a teenager," he said. "I started off pretty good. I think one- or two-under through the first few holes in appalling weather. But then it went awry and I think I needed to make par on the last to make the match-play stages. I went for it, buried it in the bunker on the corner and made an eight. So that was that."
As it was for his partner, a player at least 30 years his senior. "His name was Gary Shemano, a stockbroker in San Francisco," Casey said. "He stole the flag on the 14th, because he was having such an awful time and we were the last group out. He took it as a souvenir. Would I try to get him the one from the 18th if I won on Sunday? Nah, but the Wee Man [caddie Craig Connelly] would."
Connelly would have to be quick to beat the crowd to claim the memento. The hype truly would reach Murray levels, then. "I'd be ready to handle all that if it happens," Casey said. Andy might even give him a ring for a few tips.
Fairways to heaven: Casey's record so far
All Major finishes
Year/Masters/US Open/Open Champ/PGA Champ
Key: WD – withdrew; CUT – missed cut
European Tour Titles
Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship (2001)
ANZ Championship (2003)
Benson & Hedges International Open (2003)
TCL Classic (2005)
Volvo China Open (2006)
Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles (2006)
HSBC World Match Play Championship (2006)
Abu Dhabi Golf Championship (2007, 2009)
BMW PGA Champ (2009)
PGA Tour Titles
Shell Houston Open (2009)
European Order of Merit
Best Final Ranking: 2nd £2,101,447 (2006)
Current Ranking: 1st £1,669,900Reuse content