Casey (66) puts 40th birthday celebration on hold

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2017, 7:08 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Even on the cusp of his fourth decade, Paul Casey has no interest in acting his age.

The Englishman, who prepared for this week’s Open Championship by cycling 300 miles through the Italian Dolomites, inched closer to that elusive first major on Thursday, opening his week with a 4-under 66 to move within a stroke of the lead.

On Friday he’ll continue that unrelenting march against the clock as a newly minted 40-year-old.

“I haven't had a [mid-life] crisis yet. Maybe I'll have one tomorrow,” he laughed. “A white Lamborghini or something. I don't know. I'm still in my 30s there.”

Casey said he’ll celebrate his birthday regardless of score on Friday, which is a mature way of accepting fate, which hasn’t always been his specialty.

There was a time when a bad round of golf would be a reason to stew and lament his misfortune. He was a man of extremes, effusive and entertaining when things went well, volcanic when they didn’t.

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His play could be brilliant at times and he climbed to third in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2009, but along the way there were numerous bouts with injury, some self-inflicted – like when he dislocated his shoulder snowboarding in Colorado in ’12 – some not.

In ’11, things seemed to bottom out when he divorced his first wife, Jocelyn, and lost his PGA Tour card, all of which makes his climb back to competitive relevance, not to mention personal enlightenment, even more compelling.

He’s advanced to the Tour Championship each of the last two years and is poised to do so again and, perhaps more telling, he’s regained his form in the game’s biggest events, with top-10 finishes in three of his last six major starts.

But even all of that momentum doesn’t completely explain the smile etched into his face following his round on Thursday at Royal Birkdale.

“I think there's a whole slew of things, not having played in England for a while, excited to be here, away from the course doing things,” he explained when asked about his solid start. “I used to hide a lot of that stuff away, not tell people. Wouldn't tell people I injured myself snowboarding. I think because of that you get, oh, why is he doing that?

“Now I’m very comfortable with myself on the golf course, away from the golf course, I think that's part of why I'm playing good golf.”

His caddie Johnny “Long Socks” McLaren, also factors into that equation, having teamed with Casey with the singular purpose of a five-year plan to win a major championship; and a week back at home in south England prior to the championship enjoying “beer and cheese” has rekindled a familiar desire.

On Thursday, Casey was the low Englishman and it’s known far and wide in these parts that the last Englishman to win an Open in England was Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham.

“The Open has never been the one I seem to have fared the best at. My results haven't been good,” he said. “But I feel really good about this week. Don't know why. Maybe I'm more in love with links golf than I was before.”

Or maybe he’s just older, wiser even despite those bold treks through the Italian Alps on a bike.

There won’t be a birthday celebration on Friday for Casey. That can wait until next week when the stakes aren’t as high. Instead, there’ll be a quiet dinner and, if his title hopes aren’t swallowed up by Friday’s fearsome forecast, a quick assessment of his opportunities.

“Dinner tomorrow night, but nothing silly,” he shrugged before someone suggested a possible celebration following Sunday’s final round that could possibly include the claret jug. “Sunday, yes.”

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

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Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

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“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”