Is Paul Casey Golf’s Newest Superstar?

Paul Casey poses with the trophy after winning the Valspar Championship for the second consecutive year at Innisbrook Resort on March 24.

HARTFORD, Conn – Travelers Championship officials had to be delighted that Paul Casey notched his third PGA Tour victory Sunday in the Valspar Classic in Palm Harbor, Fla.

The Englishman is one of six Top-20 players to have committed to the $7.2 million tournament June 20-23 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. Casey has twice finished second to three-time winner Bubba Watson in Cromwell, including last year when he led after three rounds before a closing 2-over 72 dropped him into a tie for the runner-up spot with two-time Travelers winner Stewart Cink, P.J. Holmes and Beau Hossler. Casey lost the 2015 Travelers Championship when Watson birdied the second playoff hole.

Casey shot a closing 1-over-par 72 on the difficult Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort for a 72-hole total of 8-under 276, one ahead of 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen (69) and Jason Kokrak (71), who bogeyed the 18th hole to fail to win in his 197th PGA Tour. Watson shot 68 to tie for fourth with Sungjae Im (70) at 278.

A year ago, Casey shot a closing 65, then waited about 90 minutes to see if anyone would tie him at 10 under. No one did, and he made it two in a row in the final group while playing alongside the world’s No. 1 player, Dustin Johnson, who failed to make a birdie while shooting 74 to fall into a tie for sixth at 279

“It feels very different, but not any less cool,” Casey said.

Casey’s victory vaulted him from 16th to fourth in the FedExCup standings, to 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking and gave Europeans three consecutive wins on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2010, when Englishman Justin Rose won the Memorial Tournament, Lee Westwood the FedEx St. Jude Classic and Graeme McDowell the U.S. Open.

“I had a lot of confidence,” Casey said. “My victory here last year put me back into a frame of mind, a comfort that I felt many years ago during my career, back in, pick a year, when I was winning consistently in Europe. People forget I’m not a prolific winner but I’ve won 17 times around the world. It’s not bad. I would like it to be more, obviously. I know how to win, plain and simple. I think I had forgotten, and last year’s victory kind of maybe kind of broke the seal, for lack of a better term.
Paul Casey and Bubba Watson had the most complimentary comments about the Travelers Championship after last year’s tournament.

“There are a lot of things that make this a great tournament,” Casey said. “But if you look at the facts, it was one of the greatest playoffs on the PGA Tour (in 2008). The fact that it was (long-hitting) Bubba Watson playing against (short hitter) Corey Pavin means it’s a brilliant golf course because it’s open, and it is. It’s open for anybody to play well around here. It suits all types of games. It’s fun.

“We’ve got a great stretch to finish with, the excitement is usually around 15, 16, 17 where there’s a lot of action. Reachable par-5, drivable par-4, it’s got all the ingredients that you want. And they don’t set it up too silly. They let you make birdies, which is a lot of fun. This has always been one of my favorites on Tour. A great golf course that is receptive to all styles of play based on a look at the winners and whether a (Jim) Furyk or the great playoff between Watson and Pavin sums it up. All players have a chance around here. Voted one of the best, maybe the best tournament on Tour by the players.”

Watson said, “When the people see what Travelers is doing, it’s not just them writing a check, it’s them being involved, them trying to improve. The caddie area, what they’re giving to them, the food they’re giving to them, they’re improving from that perspective. They’re improving from the family perspective. Everything they do. Then when you see their own workers are volunteering for the tournament and what it means to this town and what it means to Hole In The Wall Gang, $1.8 million. I mean, you can see that.”

Casey, Watson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Marc Leishman, Tony Finau and many more headline the 2019 field teeing of June 20-23 at TPC Highland Course in Cromwell.

“People hear that, people see that they have a director like Nathan (Grube),” said Watson. “They get behind it, and when they hear that, see that, feel that, that’s when they start showing up. Then they see how perfect the golf course is and how the new clubhouse, people are energized by that, and that’s what people see. Then when they see again, if I can win here, people say I can win there if Bubba can do it.”

Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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