Paul Casey might not be available for Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup team but the Cheltenham thoroughbred could change his mind if he wins the Masters.
It’s very much as case of horses for courses at Augusta National and Casey proved he’s no exception as he opened with a three under 69 in winds that gusted to 20mph to keep the incredibly impressive Jordan Spieth in his sights. Just.
As Spieth produced a sensational 66 to take the early lead and amateur sensation Bryson DeChambeau showed his undoubted class with a 72, Casey showed just why he’s won 16 events worldwide and played in three Ryder Cup teams.
If he’s to bring a smile to the face of Clarke and make it four Ryder Cups at Hazeltine, it will take a win here this weekend for him to change his mind and rejoin the European Tour.
?Casey believes he cannot play the required minimum number of events, which has been changed from 13 to just five European Tour sanctioned tournaments outside the Major Championships and World Golf Championships by new Chief Executive Keith Pelley last November.
“I was fortunate to bump into Mr Pelley on Wednesday walking to the putting green, and you know, just had a quick chat, good chat, and it still stands,” Casey said.
“If my position changes, which I'd like it to, maybe a major victory or something like that, you know, I'll readdress it.
“And if the number changes, I will readdress it. But the number didn't change from last year, and so I have to give my focus to my family.”
As things stand, US based Casey doesn’t feet he can play both tours with a young family and while he has until May 1 to rejoin the European Tour, he’s not for changing his mind right now.
Asked if a Masters wind would change his thinking, he smiled and said: “That would move the needle.”
His golf is certainly good enough to challenge for the title and he was pleased to break 70 fir his he third time in 10 opening rounds.
“I think the love for this place started with Sandy Lyle in ’88— watching Sandy hit it into the bunker on 18 and the 7-iron out to the jig on 18.
"As a young boy in England, it was always on very late at night, so being able to stay up late at night and watch the Masters was just something very, very special.
“It was this magical attraction, which you sort of fell for. Plus the Europeans had this great success through that period, Sandy and Faldo, Woosie, Langer, Seve.
“The fact you get to play the golf course you saw on TV as a kid, I've never lost that love and that excitement.”
After holing a gutsy seven footer for par at the third, Casey rifled a 180-yard approach to four feet to make two at the fourth, then rattled in a seven footer for another birdie at the seventh.
Out in two under par to Spieth’s three under, he then made a spectacular birdie at the 10th, holing a 30 footer for another birdie after two sensational strikes.
He gave back a shot at the tough 11th, hitting a 222-yard approach long into sand and then bogeyed the 12th by overshooting the greens in swirling winds
But he stormed back in impressive fashion, hitting a long iron from a hanging lie 202 yards to 13 feet at the par-five 13th, two putting for an easy birdie four
He then got up and down from sand right of the par-five 15th, holing a tricky four footer for his birdie before almost holing his 168-yard approach to the 16th.
A bogey at the 17th, where he pulled his tee shot into the tree, was not in the game plan but he tidied up nicely for par at the last.
Still, he was left three shots behind Spieth, who produced a sensational, bogey free round.
“I was impressed by everything today,” Casey said. “That was a flawless round of golf.
“One of the toughest days I've ever seen around Augusta National. Although, I think we got let off the hook with the rain last night, it was still incredibly tough.
“I played a wonderful round of golf, but it was great to have a front row seat to watch that.”
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