After arriving via the back door, otherwise known as a sponsor’s invite, Paul Casey is minded to pass through the front when he leaves – and with his pockets full of plunder.
Victory over Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson in his opening rubber at the Volvo World Match Play Championship on Wednesday is the latest step in the big push to return to the upper echelons of the game.
It has been a long road back for Casey since dislocating his shoulder in a snowboard accident in the first week of 2012. His subsequent slide from the world’s top 20 to 169 saw him disappear from our minds as well as contention.
At his peak in 2009, Casey reached a career-high ranking of three. He was back in the winner’s circle in Ireland last year and his victory in the Netherlands last month saw him rise to 66 in the world. Casey’s improvement over the past 12 months caught the attention of Paul McGinley but his triumph at the KLM Open came just too late to justify a captain’s pick at Gleneagles.
The 2&1 triumph against Donaldson looked like it might be far more substantial when he led by three after just six holes. With four to play Donaldson was back on terms, requiring Casey to go again to finish off the Welshman with the kind of ruthless flourish that saw him inscribe his name on this pot eight years ago.
“I’ve been playing some really good stuff,” Casey said. “The victory in Holland is an illustration of that. I’ve played an awful lot of golf this year, trying to do both Tours again. I’m very, very happy with the way I struck the ball, which was certainly some of the best stuff I’ve had this year. No matter what happens the rest of this week, I feel very optimistic about the days and months ahead.”
Having taken down the man who won the Ryder Cup for Europe, Casey today faces the player who returned the most points for the United States, Patrick Reed. The 24-year-old Texan fell to Jonas Blixt in his opening match and must beat Casey to retain hopes of making the knockout stages at the weekend.
There is more than silverware at stake for Casey. Ranking points are golfing gold, the ticket to the top 50 and the elite events. “Back in the top 50 is the immediate one [goal],” Casey said. “That frees up the schedule nicely and makes it very, very easy to plan. I’m kind of in that no man’s land just outside and it’s difficult, especially with trying to do PGA Tour and European Tour. I was there for a long time; it’s easy to hang around and as soon as you’re outside, it’s difficult getting back in, so I need to take this opportunity this week.”
Defending champion Graeme McDowell eased past the challenge of Frenchman Alexander Levy, a second-time European Tour winner last week at the truncated Portuguese Open. McDowell was quickly into his stride, going three up inside seven holes. At four up after 10 the result was only ever a matter of time, which ran out for Levy at the 16th.
“I have been getting off to slow starts and you don’t want to put yourself in that hole against good players,” McDowell said. “So getting off to a key start today was big. He missed a 15-footer on two and I missed a great par save on three and then I got going with the putter and I was able to build a little bit of a lead.
“It was nice to kind of get the job done on 16. There are no easy matches out here. We always say it in matchplay, you really can’t take anybody lightly, especially a guy coming off a victory last week. He’s a really good-looking young player so I’m happy to get the victory.”Reuse content