IT says everything about how strong European golf is going into this week’s British Open Championship that Paul Casey, the world number 10, talks of not wanting to be left behind.
This time last year, Casey was the one leading the way. Third in the world, three times a winner already in the season, a first major was the next step for him to take.
What the 32-year-old did not know at the time, though, was the rib strain he had suffered practising for Turnberry would turn into a torn muscle and would put him out of the game for months.
Casey has played some good golf since his return, but he has not won again yet — and in America alone, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose twice and, most notably at the US Open, Graeme McDowell all have.
Hence his desire to make his presence felt at St Andrews in the championship that means more than any other to home players.
“For me it’s the major I most want at the ultimate venue,” says Casey, who despite having ground to make up in the Ryder Cup race has missed the last two European Tour events to focus all his energies on the Home of Golf.
“I very much want to emulate what the others have done. I am knuckling down and I’ve increased my focus and my workload just to make sure I’m not getting left behind.”
Casey led the recent US Open after an opening 69 at Pebble Beach and he was also the pacesetter at Royal Troon in 2004. McDowell had such experiences and learned from them, so the Surrey player is hoping the same applies to him.
He certainly feels he knows The Old Course well enough, with memories that go back to his amateur days.
“I played in the Links Trophy and after driving up there with Chris Rodgers, who plays mostly in Asia now, we walked out on the course that night and got as far as the fifth.
“The green there was the biggest I’d ever seen and we just lay down on it. It was just the novelty factor — we thought it was great.”
The 2000 Open was held there and Casey, English amateur champion by then, tried to qualify, but although he failed then, he was part of the 2005 championship.
“I partnered Tony Jacklin and Greg Norman in the first two rounds. That was a treat, but I didn’t play very well and missed the cut.
“I did, though, get a chance to see Jack Nicklaus make his farewell, so that was pretty special.”
What he most wants now is to be the centre of attention himself.
Expectations might not be as high as they were 12 months ago, but that might work in his favour.
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