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Casey heals, avoids need to withdraw

Thursday, April 08, 2010

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Paul Casey's first win in the United States came last year at the Shell Houston Open.

He was looking forward to defending his title, because he felt an obligation to play among a strong field at Redstone Golf Course. He instead withdrew with a shoulder injury in the PGA Tour's final stop before the Masters Tournament.

"It was the first time I would be defending a title in the U.S.," the Englishman said. "I wanted to play. You have a responsibility as the defending champion, and I felt like I didn't fulfill (it) by not playing."

Though Casey says he is fine to play in the Masters, injuries forced two players to withdraw, and the others in the 96-man field hope that's the extent of problems heading into today's opening round.

Casey, who lauded Houston tournament director Steve Timms for understanding his withdrawal last week, played 18 holes Tuesday with Lee Westwood and was pleased with his shoulder.

"I got a bit tired at the end," he said. "But it's a tiring golf course. I wouldn't want to play 36."

Casey was one of two players in the Masters field to withdraw from Houston, along with Vijay Singh. The 2000 Masters winner has not played since March 14 but was on the course Monday for a practice round. The 47-year-old Fijian declared himself 100 percent.

"I'm trying to get back into the swing of things," Singh said. "I'm trying to not hurt when I hit a ball. ... It's not really nice coming off an injury, so I'm going to take it easy right now and see what happens." Michael Sim, a 25-year-old Australian who was to make his Masters debut, has an injured right shoulder and withdrew last week, joining Jose Maria Olazabal among those who are invited but cannot play. A sensational player on the Nationwide Tour a year ago, Sim has not played since Doral, which ended March 14.

Olazabal, who's been plagued by rheumatism, will miss his first tournament since 1996.

Staff Writer Billy Byler contributed to this article.

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

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