SHANGHAI – Mathematically, Paul Casey is very much in the hunt for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour, at No. 5 in the standings with the top five players separated by about $350,000.
Realistically? That’s a different story.
Right when he was reaching the peak of his game, with three victories this year that took him to No. 3 in the world ranking, Casey sustained a rib injury that kept him out for three months. He returned last week in the World Match Play Championship, losing all three of his matches.
Asked if he had given up hope on the $1.5 million bonus, Casey smiled Tuesday and said, “No.”
“But I need to win an event,” he added. “And when you’re up against this quality of field and you’re not 100 percent, it’s difficult.”
Even so, he wasn’t complaining.
Casey felt good to simply get back into competition after not having played a full round since the British Open at Turnberry. He had been gone so long that when he arrived in Spain for the Match Play, he forgot to register.
He tore a muscle near his 10th rib on the right side, which required rest – lots of rest. Casey missed a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship, and the entire FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour.
“I went six or seven weeks when I didn’t pick up a club at all,” Casey said. “But I regained my love of the game. I’m not qualified to do anything else. In a way, I relearned how to play. The week before Match Play, I was enjoying going to the golf course every day. Without injury, I should do it again.”
Casey described his health at about 70 percent. Even now, he comes out of a few shots, and he has yet to hit a shot from the rough since his return, mainly because the Finca Cortesin course in Spain had none.
“I’m setting smaller goals,” he said, noting that the Race to Dubai was part of a bigger picture.
After the HSBC Champions, Casey is headed for the Hong Kong Open, then the Dubai World Championship. He also plays to play the Chevron World Challenge in California, hosted by Tiger Woods, a chance to try new equipment – and grooves – for next year.
Next year will arrive sooner than usual. His victory in the Houston Open made him eligible for the winners-only SBS Championship at Kapalua. Casey wasn’t sure he would be able to play until realizing there was a week between Kapalua and getting halfway around the world for the Abu Dhabi Championship, where he is defending champion.
OVERLOOKED: Rod Pampling went nearly 10 years between victories in his native land, winning the Australian Masters last year at Huntingdale. Just his luck, his return next week to Melbourne as the defending champion coincides with the return of another player.
Tiger Woods is competing Down Under for the first time since 1998, and the first time in a regular tournament since 1996. That makes Pampling the most forgotten defending champion since Nick Price at the 2003 Colonial, which featured Annika Sorenstam.
Pampling was asked if anyone even knew he was the defending champion.
“My mom and dad do,” he said. “My brothers don’t.”
Woods agreed to play the Australian Masters – along with a $3 million appearance fee – in March. Woods and Pampling often play practice rounds together at the majors, and when they ran into each other that spring, Pampling offered a sarcastic thanks.
“I did mention to him that it’s my first time in 10 years since I won a tournament at home and I’m getting no recognition,” he said. “But hey, it’s huge news. It’s been a long time since he’s been down there, and his game has improved a little. I guess he’s worth going to see.”
All is not lost. Pampling has been invited to a dinner Tuesday night, and he does have some other media obligations.
“It’s going to be great having Tiger there,” Pampling said. “Look, whoever the defending champion is, when you have Tiger in the field, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are in the ranking or what tour you’re on.”
LOCAL CADDIE: Jerry Kelly didn’t need to see the sand painted red in the bunkers to feel like the HSBC Champions was a new experience. He has broken out a new set of Cleveland irons this week, and he has someone new on the bag.
“Got my new sticks, and my caddie in red,” he said.
Turning over his shoulder, he motioned to the local caddie he has hired for the week – Anna Zhu, who stands about 5-foot-1, and works at the Sheshan International Golf Club, where caddies wear red coveralls.
Kelly’s regular caddie, Eric Meller, is recovering from knee surgery.
“Been a while since I did my own (yardage) numbers,” Kelly said.
RYDER CUP UPDATE: U.S. players only earned Ryder Cup points this year at the majors, which is why the standings going into 2010 look so peculiar. Lucas Glover tops the standings, followed by Stewart Cink, Tiger Wood, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry.
That’s no typo at No. 6 – Tom Watson, who lost in a playoff at Turnberry. The last time Watson was involved in the Ryder Cup was in 1993, when he was the U.S. captain and caused a stir by having his players decline to sign dinner menus.
Tied for eighth is Ricky Barnes and David Duval – they tied for second at the U.S. Open and both are in jeopardy of losing their PGA Tour cards next year.
That all is most likely to change next year.
DIVOTS: Mark O’Meara and Ben Curtis will play next week in the Hong Kong Open, which already has a strong field with so many top players from Europe in the final event before the Dubai World Championship. Curtis currently is No. 75 in the Race to Dubai standings, and needs to get into the top 60 to qualify for the final event in Dubai. … The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has received approval to lower its field from 180 players to 156 players in February. … Jiyai Shin has won the Louise Suggs Award as the LPGA Tour’s rookie of the year. Shin also is leading in points for player of the year as she tries to become the first player since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win both awards in the same season.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Stuart Appleby did not qualify for the HSBC Champions, the first time he has not competed in a World Golf Championship since the series began in 1999.
FINAL WORD: “There’s no such thing as a performance-enhancing drug. It might make you strong, but I’m not sure it makes you a better golfer. If there’s a drug out there that helps you make a 3-footer, I’d like to know what it is.” – Paul Goydos.