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Casey warms to idea of a Masters win

Friday, April 02, 2010

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Paul Casey was a hot pick at Augusta National Golf Club last year -- perhaps just a little too hot.

Paul Casey is still not 100 percent healed from a rib injury in 2009 that forced him to sit out the PGA Championship and PGA Tour playoffs. "But I don't feel it's hindering my golf," he said. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

Coming to the Masters Tournament off his first PGA Tour win in Houston the week before, Casey was a popular choice to lead the European bid to win a green jacket. He had already won in Abu Dhabi and was second at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in the run to Augusta.

He finished in a respectable -- if disappointing -- tie for 20th in his fifth Masters start.

"I was playing great golf," Casey said, "but I just ... there was nothing left. My legs were a little bit tired. Maybe the mind wasn't on it on certain shots."

That the 32-year-old Englishman is similarly hot this season (five top-11 finishes in his first six worldwide starts, including another runner-up in the Match Play) and ranked No. 6 in the world doesn't worry him that the Augusta result will be similar.

"Yeah, I'd love to be in the same position," he said of riding a win into town.

Casey has become comfortable with the expectations that have steadily grown around him while climbing as high as third in the world late last year and has loitered in the top 10 for more than a year. That his name is mentioned more and more among the favorites at major venues doesn't burden him.

Paul Casey tees off Friday during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

"I don't think it's a bad thing," he said. "I put enough pressure on myself anyway with my expectations. I feel very honored and flattered to be mentioned in those sort of conversations. Majors are what I want. I mean, that's my goal."

For his career, Casey is relatively hit or miss in the majors. In 27 starts in majors, he has had nine top-20 finishes (at least one in each major) and four top-10s. But he also has 10 missed cuts -- though just one since 2006.

His most consistent work has come at the Masters, where he debuted in 2004 with a tie for sixth and has finished tied for 10th, 11th and 20th the past three years.

If a breakthrough comes as he enters the prime of his career, the Masters might be the most likely place.

"You know, I've had some OK results," Casey said of his majors portfolio. "The one I always look forward to the most is Augusta because it always suits my game."

With his high ball flight that was honed in college at Arizona State, Casey sometimes struggles at his home nation's Open Championship.

Paul Casey hits out of the sand during the World Golf Championships at Doral. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff)

"Because you've actually got so many options, I've not been disciplined enough to pick a particular type of shot," he explained. "Do I want to run it on the ground or do I want to hit it high, or what do I want to do with the golf ball? I've kind of made the mistake of not picking a particular shot and sticking with it.

"And Augusta kind of forces your hand. When you stand there on certain tee shots, like the ninth tee, you've got to hit a quality drive with a little bit of turn on it. Otherwise, you're not going to hit that fairway and you're going to be down on the right-hand side. And if you overdo it, you're in the trees.

"You have to hit that shot and pull it off. And I kind of like that. I like that challenge. But I've also been aware that's kind of been my downfall in certain other events because I've not been disciplined enough. It teaches me at the same time."

Casey has picked up this season where he left off in 2009 when a rib injury derailed the latter part of his year and forced him to sit out the PGA Championship and PGA Tour playoffs. He became worried when the torn rib muscles flared up again in Shanghai in October, but he has since been on the mend with an ailment that takes about a year for full recovery.

"I'm not 100 percent," he said last month. "It still gets a little tired. But the golf that I played at the Match Play was as good a test as any and I got through that. A very long week, and it did very well.

"The problem I get is still flexibility with the rest of the body, mainly the back, so it tightened up to protect the ribs in the front.

"But I don't feel it's hindering my golf; it's just an effect that I feel later on the next evening or the next day. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm still slightly protective of it because, in theory, it's something I could still reinjure. But I'm enjoying the golf and enjoying that I'm back out here playing. So it's been a much better start to the season than I expected."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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