Unbelievable Casey Tames Oakmont

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2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- Paul Casey, 66.
 
Casey's second-round score Friday from tough-as-reputed Oakmont may be remembered for years for its brilliance, even if Casey doesn't win this U.S. Open. For one exceptional round, Casey was beyond good on a day when some of golf's biggest names were caving in to Oakmont's toughness and struggling to break 80.
 
'Sixty-six is way beyond my expectations, and I'm still a bit surprised at the score I shot,' Casey said.
 
Fellow Englishman Justin Rose was walking to the 10th tee when he glanced at the leaderboard and saw what Casey was about to do. He didn't need much time to think of a superlative to describe it.
 
'That's unbelievable,' Rose said. 'Ten shots better than the field average or more? Unbelievable.'
 
Remarkably, Casey accomplished what Brandt Snedeker predicted a few hours before couldn't be done: break par with Oakmont at its challenging best.
 
'The wind is blowing so hard on some of those holes, it's virtually impossible to hit a lot of fairways,' Snedeker said. 'The rough is as nasty as it can be and the greens are as firm and fast as anywhere I've seen. You would really have to have an unbelievably good round to even consider breaking par out there.'
 
Somehow, Casey regrouped from his opening-round 77 to tame Oakmont with what may be the best round played there, given the conditions, since Johnny Miller's record 63 in 1973. For some perspective, consider these other scores: Rich Beem 85, Adam Scott 82, Phil Mickelson 77, Vijay Singh 77. The average score for the day was nearly 77.
 
'I just hope it gives some of the guys some hope out there and shows them it can be done,' Casey said. 'I certainly don't want the USGA to make it any tougher. ... I got some lucky breaks, because it's brutal.'
 
Comebacks like this are becoming commonplace for Casey in majors. At last year's U.S. Open, he followed a first-round 77 with a 54-hole closing stretch that was the tournament's best (72-72-69), tying him for 12th. At the Masters, he rallied from a 79 for a 68-77-71 finish and tied for 10th.
 
To get over his tendency to start majors with bad rounds, he kept score while playing his final practice round Wednesday, something he never does. He shot a 69, and considered that streak to be stopped. Then he shot his 77 on Thursday.
 
On Friday, Casey got going as soon as he dropped a 45-footer for birdie on the par-4 No. 10, his opening hole -- 'If it doesn't go in, it's 10 feet by the hole,' he said.
 
'You need breaks like that and it boosted my confidence,' he said.
 
Casey also birdied the longest hole on the course, the 667-yard No. 12, and was 3 under at the turn despite a bogey on No. 18.
 
Only in America. He may be British, but he considers the U.S. Open to be the toughest test in golf. Because no one else on the course was scoring well, he picked up extra fans on every hole Friday and said they provided a mental boost.
 
'I could sense they really wanted to see a low round of golf,' he said. 'They didn't want me dropping shots (to par). They wanted me to try to make birdies. They were just excited.'
 
That might not have happened several years ago, after Casey was critical of Americans following Europe's Ryder Cup romp over the United States in 2004. Then he said, 'Americans are stupid. I hate them' -- a reference mostly to his perception of how little they follow international affairs.
 
Casey also said he hated the 'U-S-A! U-S-A!' chant and that it 'makes you want to beat them even more.' The comment was more than a little curious given he was a three-time Pac-10 champion at Arizona State and lived in Arizona for years.
 
There was considerable fan backlash for a while, and Casey began ducking some PGA Tour events because of it. He also sought professional help for a brief time. But time has diminished the effect of his words, which he said he will 'regret for the rest of my life.'
 
Now, his round of a lifetime has put the 29-year-old Casey in position to win the national championship of the country he once ridiculed.
 
Curiously, his Web page opens to an image of Casey and this quotation: 'Almost there. I feel my game is almost there.'
 
Almost no more. It arrived Friday on one of the world's toughest golf courses.
 
'Without a doubt, it's the best round of golf I've ever played,' Casey said.
 
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