Commentary

Casey seeking career-changing victory

Originally Published: July 17, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- With all the wind-blown stress of this week in St. Andrews and a glaring triple-bogey on his scorecard, Paul Casey somehow forged his way into the final twosome for Sunday at The Open Championship.

He shot a 5-under-par 67 Saturday during another blustery adventure on the Old Course, matching the low round of the day. He made no bogeys when the slightest of errors could lead to disaster.

And he outdueled countryman Lee Westwood, who also began the third round tied for third.

With his first major championship in his sights, Casey was certainly giddy about the possibility Saturday evening as light started to fade at the storied course by the North Sea.

Trouble is, there's this guy whose name nobody can pronounce doing all of the things a player of his otherwise unspectacular résumé is not supposed to be accomplishing.

[+] EnlargePaul Casey
Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesPaul Casey, who trailed third-round leader Louis Oosthuizen by 4 strokes, has only four top-10s in majors in 31 appearances -- and no top-5s.

For most of the day, the followers waited for Louis Oosthuizen to falter.

The South African, who had made but a single cut in his eight previous major championships, surely would falter under the glare of such pressure.

He had done his damage early Friday, before the carnage. He not only had to sleep on a five-stroke lead, he had to eat lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again on it.

Oosthuizen would have been excused if he had trouble drawing the club back Saturday in the shadow of the R&A clubhouse.

But Ooosthuizen maintained his advantage, and Casey could make up only two strokes.

Not that he was complaining.

Casey is in the final pairing at the Old Course, a first major championship title at least within his vision.

"I'm not sure I'm able to explain what it would mean," said Casey, 32, who would become the first Englishman since Nick Faldo in 1996 to win a major championship. "It is the ultimate for me. Probably even more so because links golf is something I've struggled with. I've worked very hard to give myself the opportunity to compete in an Open Championship and therefore the opportunity to win, as I've got now."

Trouble is, Casey has to overcome the suddenly hot Oosthuizen and his own lack of success in major championships.

Casey has been a world class player for years, with 10 victories on the European Tour, one on the PGA Tour and a No. 10 ranking in the world. He is a mainstay on the European Ryder Cup team (although he lives in Arizona and has an American wife) and is one of those players always mentioned to be in the mix at the game's biggest tournaments.

But somewhat curiously, his best finish in a major is a tie for sixth at the 2004 Masters. That is just one of four top-10 finishes, and he's been an infrequent contender.

"I've not played the golf I've wanted to to give myself those opportunities," he said. "That's been a bit frustrating, but I've worked very hard and I feel that I've got 10 years or so to take advantage of my game."

It is hard to knock the way Casey is playing this week. He made five birdies on the front side and has gone 46 holes with just one worse than par.

That, unfortunately, was a triple-bogey 7 at the Road Hole on Friday, where he did not even incur a penalty stroke. Casey hit his drive in the left rough, was unable to advance the ball, chipped out, then needed 4 more strokes to get it down.

That is the only blemish on his card since the front nine Thursday.

And yet, he must overcome a four-stroke deficit, the largest after 54 holes at The Open Championship since Tiger Woods led by six in 2000.

"I would love to replicate [the 67] tomorrow," Casey said. "I'm not sure it would be enough with the way Louis is playing, but I was very happy with that."

Casey, who at one time in 2009 moved to No. 3 in the world, conceded he was unsure this would even be a possibility when the season began.

He had to miss the PGA Championship last year after incurring a rib injury that started at The Open at Turnberry. For the rest of the year, the injury plagued him to the extent that he did not complete a four-round tournament until December at the Chevron World Challenge.

The injury, at times, still bothers him.

"It is a small reminder that quite often you take for granted a lot of things, and nothing is better than an Open Championship at the home of golf," Casey said. "So I'm loving it. I'm loving the fact that I'm playing great golf and I'm four shots behind Louis."

Casey laughed as he said it, knowing it sounded silly that he's joking about being four behind. But he's alone in second, has a front-row seat and, as we've seen many times, nothing is assured for the leader in a major championship.

He need only to think of his idol for inspiration in that regard.

Faldo won six majors, including five where he capitalized on the mistakes of those he was competing against in the final round. The latest and greatest was the 1996 Masters, where Greg Norman blew a six-stroke 54-hole lead.

The lone major victory where Faldo squashed the opposition was right here at St. Andrews 20 years ago.

"I'm not sure I can describe what it would mean," Casey said. "He's certainly a hero of mine, and I would love to replicate what he did here."

At the start of the week, Faldo predicted an English victory, pointing out that those players continue to gain experience in these situations, whether it be Casey, Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald or Justin Rose.

That's five of the top 16 in the world -- the same number as the United States -- but none of them has a major title.

Casey will be out to overcome and change that Sunday.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com