Casey flies in under the radar on Mission Jacklin

World No 3 is low-key as ever in bid to be first Briton to win US Open since 197

By James Corrigan
Saturday 08 March 2014 02:31

As British world No 3s in their respective sports, Paul Casey and Andy Murray have obvious similarities. But there is at least one glaring difference. One is a regular on the back pages who, it seems, the entire country is counting on this month to end a barren run that stretches back across the generations. And the other is Paul Casey.

Of course, a victory here in the US Open this week would transport the unassuming Englishman into the unsmiling Scotsman's stratosphere, where the headline towers above the head-to-toe picture and where the jingoism will struggle to stay one leap ahead of the achievement.

Certainly, a first Casey major would deserve such projection. Never mind no Briton having prevailed in SW19 in 73 years, no European has won the US Open since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970. That's 39 years of hurt. For a whole continent.

For Casey, however, it would not be about any ensuing frenzy, any Casey-clamour to rival the Murraymania. "I'm more than happy to fly under the radar," he said yesterday. "It's not about recognition for me. To be honest, I'm not big on celebrity. I don't like that word. I'm an athlete, a golfer. They're the words I'm happy with." But surely he is just a teeny, weeny bit peeved that while his tennis equivalent is A-list, the list he occupies is somewhat down-alphabet?

"No, I'm absolutely fine about that," he maintained. "I'm not out here looking for widespread recognition. I'm out here to compete, to try to beat the best players in the world. You know, that doesn't happen very often in golf, you don't get to go on long winning streaks like you do in tennis. Tiger's the obvious exception. Of course, I've had a great run this year, winning three times and seeing my ranking tumble from 41st to third. But like I said, recognition has not been the motivating factor."

Except he accepts that it will and has come. As inevitably will the burden of his new status. An incident in a Manhattan eatery on Monday proved as much. "There was this kid in the restaurant last night, who spotted me on the next table," he said. "He claimed that I was his favourite golfer on the Tiger Woods PGA Tour computer game. Maybe he said it just because I was sitting there, but that sort of thing didn't use to happen to me. People have been spotting me more. I feel like I have maybe a bit more pressure on me now and feel more responsibility. Because I'm being watched more."

Yet Casey is not about to hide from the glare. "I think there's two things that make up the X-factor that wins majors," he said. "The first is unbelievable ball-striking and, of course, playing great golf, which is vital at a course like this. But just as important is that you need to believe. You need to think you can win. Majors are life-changing and you have to be ready for it to happen. That realisation is what get some guys over the line."

Casey clearly now has that conviction to go with a talent that has never been questioned, although there are sceptics, predominantly in America, who persist in raising eyebrows at his present standing as the world's third best golfer. In many respects, their cynicism is understandable. Casey has yet to record a top-five in a major; indeed his best performance – a tie for sixth – came on his Masters debut more than five years ago. But the flashes of brilliance have always pointed to a major performer. Not least at the US Open.

In Oakmont in 2007 Casey shot a 66 which was the best score of the week and had fellow pros applauding him into the locker room. Two years before at Pinehurst the other side of Casey had reared its ugly scorecard, when an opening 85 led to a withdrawal from the second round and a resulting rebuke from a senior USGA official. Both rounds inevitably resound in Casey's mind. "They were my highest and lowest moments in majors, without a doubt," he admitted. He stopped short of declaring the US Open as the major that most suits him – "the Masters has always been one which I felt I had the best opportunity to win" – although he does acknowledge that this brutal test of distance and control plays into his Popeye hands. "Length will be an advantage," he said.

Yes, Casey has the yards, he has the form and, regardless of any aversion to limelight, he has the incentive. "To do something that hasn't been achieved in 39 years would be massive," he said. "I would dearly, dearly love to have that on my CV."

After Jacklin: British near-misses at the US Open

Britain's closest calls in the US Open since Jacklin in 1970:

1988: Nick Faldo (Brookline) Beaten in 18-hole play-off by Curtis Strange.

1989: Ian Woosnam (Oak Hill) Beaten by one by Curtis Strange.

1994: Colin Montgomerie (Oakmont) Beaten in play-off by Ernie Els after finishing third two years earlier.

1997: Colin Montgomerie (Congressional) Beaten by one by Els.

2006: Colin Montgomerie (Winged Foot) Beaten by one by Geoff Ogilvy after last-hole double bogey.

2008: Lee Westwood (Torrey Pines) Englishman missed play-off by one after playing with Tiger Woods in final round.

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