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Casey For The Defence
If European pro-golf was unaware of Paul Casey before this weekend it is certainly aware of him now.

Not only did he turn on an exhibition of superb golf at Gleneagles to take the Scottish PGA Championship, he also did it with some style and a consistency reflected in four sub-seventy rounds of 69, 69, 67 and 69 for a 14 under par total of 274.

If the tour hardened pros were surprised by this performance, those who saw his Walker Cup contibution two years ago at Nairn were not.

Furthermore, if his US Collegiate record, which is better even than that of Mickelson and Woods, is an indicator of things to come, then Paul Casey's Gleneagles win will not be his last.

This is Casey's first year as a pro.

He has won in the fifth of the seven tour invitations he is permitted this year without going through the agonising endurance grind of the European Tour qualifying school.

Thankfully he has now accrued sufficient points (and £300,000 in four months as a pro player) to by-pass this requirement and enters the pro-ranks proper and fully-fledged next year.

For those disposed to long term wagers, see your bookie about odds on the first year that he will lead the European order of merit.

He will certainly be a leading player in the 2003 Ryder Cup in America.

Now, there are those that will argue that Casey won from a poor field.

That he was merely one of the mice playing while the fat cats were off in Ohio challenging for the million dollar prize on offer in the NEC International in Akron.

That may well be the case, but judging from the consistency of Casey's four rounds and the innate class of his long iron play it is doubtful if the results would have be any different had Clarke and Montgomerie been in the field.

Both played well in Akron, taking third and fourth places respectively while leaving much of the US Ryder Cup team trailing in their wake.

But if the calibre of the Gleneagles field was not high, it has to be said that the standard of play at Akron was not particularly impressive.

Darren Clarke epitomised the axiom that when you drive well you putt badly and vice-versa.

In the first two rounds his putting was superb and saved his card. In the latter two rounds his putting was poor. Had his putting stroke endured he would have been $800,000 richer today.

But what he and Montgomerie achieved is more important for it posted to the US team and their already hyped up press that we may have a Ryder Cup team to be reckoned with after all.

Certainly the apparent return to form of the Tiger should not give cause for concern on the basis of his win at Akron.

His performance was a long way from the Woods of yesteryear.

The fact that he struggled to match Jim Furyk, a player with a swing that has more in common with a folding bed than a golfing action, says little for his form.

Gleneagles provided a pretty pedestrian spectacle, although the poor chap that was hit on the head at the 18th and required an ambulance may see things differently.

But Casey and Cejka demonstrated some remarkably consistent and intelligent golf.

In Akron, on the other hand, the seven extra holes that it took Woods to dispose of Furyk made for an exhibition in survival.

Furyk had at least three chances at the first four extra holes and failed to capitalise on them.

He was not helped by a questionable rules decision when Woods was given a lift and drop from TV cables.

When Furyk's folding bed finally collapsed, as was surely pre-ordained, he found himself under a tree and down $500,000 when Woods birdied the hole.

The battle-hardened Woods looked grim and tested throughout, in contrast to the composed Casey at Gleneagles.

Certainly, Casey need never feel inferior to Woods. His record in the hurly-burly of collegiate golf is superior, although he may be short on national amateur titles, and his game compares favourably in every department.

The fact that he has won in his rookie year must be confidence boosting and the accolades that he is attracting must reassure him of his place in the game.

It will be interesting to see where he comes relative to Woods in the years to come. He will almost certainly play much of his golf in the US, as will Garcia, Luke Donald and Justine Rose.

If the absence of this young brigade does not prompt a change in the selection system for the Ryder Cup team then someone is sorely in need of psychiatric help.


©    28 - AUGUST 2001



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