Paul Casey: Out of the rough and into a hole

Paul Casey aims to return to form after a case of the yanks and yips
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His eyeballs roll as soon as you mention America and those damned "hate" and "stupid" words. In fact, if Paul Casey could get his golf balls to roll quite as predictably he would not be lining up in the forest today with an aim that rivals Friar Tuck's after a particularly heavy night on the mead.

His eyeballs roll as soon as you mention America and those damned "hate" and "stupid" words. In fact, if Paul Casey could get his golf balls to roll quite as predictably he would not be lining up in the forest today with an aim that rivals Friar Tuck's after a particularly heavy night on the mead.

"That's over with. Let's move on?" he beseeches as PC's decidedly non-PC tirade against all things USA is brought up for about the squillionth time since its thoroughly unwise, but he claims thoroughly misquoted, inception at the back end of last year. "People tell me that the whole affair has affected my golf, but as I've had nothing but messages of support in America, I believe the only thing that might have affected my golf is that I've had to spend so much time doing interviews and answering questions about it."

Point taken, although it might help if Casey did something noteworthy on the fairways that could force those statements "Americans are stupid" - "never said it," he declares - and "I hate Americans" - "only said it in a competitive Ryder Cup context," he asserts - out of headline-obsessed minds. But, apart from an early-season success straight from the hullabaloo in China, the only noise Casey has made on a golf course this year is when he fired up a Formula One car earlier this week and screeched it up the drive to the Wentworth clubhouse on Monday in a publicity stunt for this month's BMW Open.

By chance, as he was revving up alongside the Formula One driver Nick Heidfeld, Ernie Els was pulling out of his mansion, which just has the West Course as its back garden, and, on seeing what Casey was up to, noticeably sniggered at what lengths his lesser rivals are made to go to promote themselves. Ernie may be big, but he's not that easy.

Except, that's not quite fair, as Casey is a genuine petrol-head who relished the chance of getting behind a big engine - a Lotus Exige stands as six-figured proof of that in his Weybridge home's garage - just as he is a genuine challenger to Els and the other golfing Fangios if his undoubted potential can be put back on track. "Yeah, an awful lot has happened since I won the B&H in 2003," he said, reflecting on that year's equivalent of this week's Daily Telegraph Dunlop Masters at the Forest of Arden when his name was really introduced to the golf world at large. "I had no wins last year - apart from the World Cup with Luke [Donald] - and then this year I have won in China and the rest of it has not been very good."

Not very good is an understatement for someone of his talent. More missed cuts in America than you would care throw a meat cleaver at, and a wasted return trip to the Far East last month when the best he could manage was a tie for 30th in Beijing, Casey has descended to a low unprecedented even in his hit-or-bust career. "I was watching Sky last week and I was second on 'the worst sporting cock-up of the month' for a shank I hit in China," he said. "Some cricketer beat me."

At least that made a change from the majority of the professionals he has played against in his last seven tournaments (five missed cuts). "I can't put a finger on what's gone wrong, but I can tell you what it's not is anything to do with my mentality," he said, almost challenging you to suggest it is simply a cerebral hangover from "Stupidgate".

"The media reports that I had counselling after all that made it sound pretty dramatic, but in truth it was just to get my mind back on golf again and away from all those questions I was continually having to answer. The thing is, because I am such a big hitter, if I'm a fraction out it actually makes it look worse than it is. It's not like I am technically the best guy out there by any means. The ball can go sideways with me, definitely."

What he would give for his world ranking to have taken such a horizontal route rather than the vertical path it is currently slipping down, to No 45, perilously close to tumbling him out of the world's top 50 and into the major-qualifying no man's land that Colin Montgomerie is suffering in. "I'm just glad that this year hasn't counted towards next year's Ryder Cup as I'd be struggling - big time," he said.

If that is a blessed mercy, a blessed cruelty of his recent demise has been in seeing Donald, his great friend and former Walker Cup soulmate, performing with such distinction. "Luke's always been a brilliant player," he said about his fellow 27-year-old, whose second place in the Players Championship and third in The Masters fairly Tardissed him into the world's top 12. "It's almost as if he got a bit of confidence from those couple of wins he had in Europe last year and just carried that on through. He was sensational in the Ryder Cup, just like he was in the World Cup."

Indeed, Donald was so much the story of both those giddying triumphs that it was easy to overlook Casey's contribution - at Oakland Hills, where his fourball victory with David Howell on the Saturday night was perhaps the defining moment, and in Seville, where he backed up Donald with impressive control to grab glory for England - and talking to him it is difficult not to sense the frustration of becoming the forgotten man.

"Look, I was proud to be England's No 1 and it is definitely something I am aiming at again," he said, surveying his present No 3 role behind Donald and Lee Westwood. "But there are a lot of young Englishmen playing much, much better golf than I am right now. And that's great because it was only two or three years ago that everyone was saying, 'Oh look at the state of English golf'. Then we only had two or three guys in the top 100 - myself, Westwood and maybe Nick Faldo. But now there's more than twice that. It certainly makes me work very, very hard watching all those guys, whether it's turning on the TV and seeing Nick Dougherty winning earlier this year or Steve Webster in Italy at the weekend. The standard of our golf is bloody good right now.

"Sure, we all get on and everything, but you still want to chase the other English guys, still want to challenge them. You want to get out there and know that if you beat Luke or whoever it is in a particular week, that you jump ahead of him. That's what I want - to get back up there and start jumping over people again."

To do so, there are those of the stature of Ian Woosnam, the present European Ryder Cup captain, who believe that the Caseys, Poulters and Roses may be better served staying in Europe and supporting their own tour. But as an avowed Yankophile from his days at Arizona University, Casey is not about to run for Surrey, no matter how tempting that may have seemed these past six months. "Listen, my home tour is the European Tour and if I had to choose one place to live, it would be England. But in winter times it is very tough to practise over here and there are so many world-ranking points and money to be earned in the States, and that if you want to be a world player, you have got to play over there for at least a portion of the year. But I'll always keep my European Tour card."

The Tour will be mighty relieved to hear so, just as they will be delighted to see so many high-profile exiles competing in the Midlands today for the start of their British leg. For Casey, this homecoming will be particularly sweet.

"Yeah, I'm excited to be back," he said. "I get to stay at home and although the Forest of Arden is traditionally wet and windy and cold, I'll just get the waterproofs out. It's the crowds that make it - they are so different over here, so knowledgeable. They really are true golf fans over here."

Is Casey daring to insinuate that American fans aren't? It would have taken a brave fool to ask it. And an even stupider fool to write it.

Six of the best: The English golfers keeping Casey company

Luke Donald

Age 27

World No 12

No longer the coming man - Donald's definitely arrived. Third place at The Masters proved that, even if his Ryder Cup and World Cup performances were not evidence enough.

Lee Westwood

Age 31

World No 32

Still no major, but the burly Yorkshireman's potential has not diminished. His showing at the Players Championship suggests that a hot period with his putter could yet see him fly.

Ian Poulter

Age 29 World No 48

About the only person in the world of whom you could not say 'all mouth, no trousers'. Nevertheless, his displays this year have yet to reach the heights of his Volvo Masters win in October.

David Howell

Age 29

World No 51

The nicest man in golf is also one of the most consistent. Has not won since 1999, but the Ryder Cup hero's joint 11th at his first Masters in April showcased a hitherto unsung talent.

Greg Owen

Age 33

World No 61

Greg Who? they asked when the European Tour member shamelessly took his place at US qualifying last year. He has since won more than $1.1m (£600,000) this year.

Brian Davis

Age 30 World No 81

Transferred his ultra-consistent game to the US Tour where he has won more than $700,000 (£380,000) this year and justified his rave rating on the European Tour.