By Sean Fairholm of Global Golf Post.
In his first PGA Tour victory since the 2009 Houston Open, Paul Casey displayed exceptional resilience when the pressure became its greatest.
The Englishman earned his way into the final pairing for the third round and birdied three holes on his opening nine Saturday, but a late water ball on the par-4 16th sent him falling down the leaderboard. With Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker all chasing Corey Conners, Casy was little more than an afterthought heading into Sunday.
The five-shot deficit he faced quickly evaporated. Casey birdied Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 7 to insert himself into the conversation and then made a string of birdies on Nos. 11, 12, and 13 to take the lead. He never relinquished it, finishing the round with just 21 putts.
“I putted brilliantly; the thing that’s been holding me back for a couple seasons,” Casey said. “The ball striking has always been a strong part of my game but (to putt well) is very, very satisfying.”
It had become a running joke of sorts that, at least on the PGA Tour stage, Casey could play well in the early rounds of big events but would struggle to continue his pace on the weekend. Since winning in 2009, Casey had 22 top-five finishes on Tour and rarely missed cuts. Despite the consistency, he couldn’t cross the finish line first.
“Cuts made is not a stat that I really ever care about,” Casey said. “I’d rather have multiple victories and a few missed cuts.”
While Casey soared past his competitors, others faltered. Connors collapsed with a 6-over 77 on Sunday, Snedeker did the same with a 7-over 78 and Rose never made a birdie after the opening hole in his round of 1-over 72.
Woods came into Sunday with great promise but couldn’t match the same crisp play he exhibited in days prior. His approaches didn’t give him great birdie opportunities and he took 32 putts around the Copperhead course.
He did offer one last moment of magic on the par-3 17th when he coaxed home a 44-foot birdie putt to pull within one stroke of Casey. He gave himself an outside look for birdie on the 72nd hole but left the ball just short. The tie for second is his best finish since August 2013.
“I was close,” Woods said. “I had a chance today. Unfortunately, I just didn’t quite feel as sharp as I needed to with my irons. I played a little conservative because of it.”
Patrick Reed also challenged Casey and looked to have an outstanding chance to win his first Tour event since the Barclays in 2016. The 27-year-old Ryder Cup stalwart chipped in for eagle on No.1 and then nearly had another eagle on No. 14.
Tied with Casey on No. 18, Reed hit the green in regulation but botched his uphill birdie attempt and watched as it rolled back to his feet. His last-ditch effort to save par and force a playoff narrowly missed.
“I pulled out the putter the first time and I gave it extra because I knew it was going to either pop or come out slow,” Reed said. “I just didn’t hit it hard enough, obviously. I absolutely killed it and the ball rolled back down to where it was.”
It is Reed’s best finish since tying for second at last year’s PGA Championship.
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (10.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana White LEX D+ 70TX Prototype
3 Wood: TaylorMade M1 2017 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana White D+ 80TX
Hybrid: Taylormade M3 4 Hybrid (21 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei White CK 100HY TX
Irons: Mizuno MP-25 (3), Mizuno MP-5 (4-PW)
Shaft: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour 120 TX
Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM6 (52-08F, 56-10S, 60-10K)
Shaft: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour120 X
Putter: Scotty Cameron Circle T 350-SSS
Grip: Scotty Cameron Pistol
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post.