It speaks volumes of Tiger Woods’ status that his fellow competitors are thrilled simply to play in the same group as him.
Excitement was the reaction Paul Casey elicited after seeing the draw for the first two rounds of the CA Championship, which starts in Miami tomorrow.
“I enjoy playing with him,” said Casey, who got to “enjoy” 54 holes with the world number one at last year’s Masters.
“I think it raises my game a little. You can feed off his focus and energy, especially right now, the roll he’s on.
“He’s setting the pace, so why not be right next to him on the course and see how you go? He’s great to play with because he compliments you if you hit a good shot.
“I stay in my own little bubble but there have been occasions when you witness things that are a little different.”
The most amazing Woods feat Casey has seen came at Augusta last year, and it was not even the execution of a shot.
Rather, it was the way Woods stopped his swing a millisecond before impact when a bird flew overheard, casting a shadow over the ball on the 13th tee during the second round.
“He’s hit a lot of unbelievable shots and you think maybe there’s a way I could hit that if you gave me enough balls but I don’t think I could have checked the swing like that,” Casey continued.
“The shadow went through and there was a split second there where he thought, ’maybe I don’t want to hit the ball, I’m going to stop’. To have the awareness to be able to think of stopping and then stop, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Casey arrives at this US dollars 8million World Golf Championships event off a missed cut last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he admits his swing was out of sync.
“I got battered by the winds in Tampa (the previous week),” he said. “I played some very good golf for a couple of days and as the wind came in, I then struggled a bit.
“That carried over to last week. I finally figured it out by Friday, but by then it was too late.
“I wasn’t able to make the recovery putts either. It was disappointing but that’s the way Florida is, windy and tough, great golf courses.”
Casey is part of a large British contingent this week at a tournament that has not been won by a European in its eight stagings.
Although with Woods winning six times, it doesn’t leave much room for anyone else, South African Ernie Els and Canadian Mike Weir the only other champions.
Casey acknowledges the demands of Doral’s Blue Monster course are considerably different to Augusta National’s.
Nonetheless, he considers the CA Championship an important part of his Masters preparation, especially as it will be his final competitive round before he has a two weeks off heading to Georgia.
“This is a great sharpening exercise for Augusta, but it will be different,” he said.
“This week it’s all about trajectory control, consistency of strike, patience. At Augusta, it’s going to be manoeuvring the ball, high ball flight, hitting off camber lies with the ball above your feet, hitting chip shots with the grain into you. That’s what I’ll be working on the next two weeks.
“There are many ways of playing shots around the greens at Augusta. You need more imagination and you need to be utterly precise.”