Like the fictional Mighty Casey, Paul Casey has struck out more times than not when it comes to winning on the PGA Tour.
On a pressure-packed Sunday, he painted a putting masterpiece at The Valspar and walked away with a one-shot victory over legendary Tiger Woods and another player who wears black and red on Sundays.
Casey got into the house early at 10-under par after starting the final 18 five shots behind overnight leader Corey Conners.
But it was a rough day for a lot of the players between him and the lead.
Conners fell apart early and often. No one expected him to pull this off and he obliged with a six-over par 77 that dropped him into a tie for 16th.
Former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose looked like the man to beat. He was nine-under at the turn and had a bunch of birdie opportunities in front of him. Instead, he struggled for pars at 10 and 11 then bowed out of the hunt with back-to-back bogeys at the gettable 12th and 13th holes. He’d finish tied for seventh.
The real threat to Casey was Patrick Reed, the loud-mouth star of Ryder Cup match play who has struggled to win on his own. Reed was 10-under through 17 and launched a long, perfect drive at 18 that left him just 133. He liked his approach enough to give it a “look at me” club twirl but then saw it land short of the upper tier shelf and roll back to 45 feet before it settled. Needing a two-putt to tie and force a playoff, Reed hit a weak effort that didn’t make it up the hill and it promptly rolled back to his feet. He chipped to try and tie it but finished with bogey.
Tiger Woods was the last man with a chance to tie Casey. After going 15 straight holes without a birdie, Woods dropped a 44-foot bomb at the 17th and the roar likely could be heard in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Needing birdie to tie Casey, Woods’ approach at 18 left him a difficult 38 footer that ended up low and left on his birdie attempt.
In the end, Casey was a deserving champion. The man who has fought his putter found it to be his friend, finally as he putted just 21 times on his way to a 65 that tied the week’s best effort on a golf course that is stingy with birdies.
“I’m optimistic,” Casey had said after he finished nearly an hour ahead of the lead groups. I think I’ll get matched, maybe beaten.”
“Very satisfying, very rewarding,” said the soft-spoken Englishman who got his first win since the 2009 Houston Open.
“It’s emotional. Biggest thing is I lost a friend in Mexico last month. I played with a heavy heart.”
Casey will now attend that friend’s funeral while everyone else heads to Bay Hill.