PALM HARBOR, Florida – Last March Paul Casey stared down Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed to win the Valspar Championship, and this week the defending champion re-lived that career-defining Sunday.
“I expected a birdie on the last hole from Tiger, which would have meant a playoff, but I got lucky and got the win,” recalled the defending champion as he spoke by phone to the assembled throng at Valspar’s Media Day February 19. “It was the most enjoyable win I’ve ever had, along with my first-ever win on tour.”
As a quick reminder to that memorable Sunday 11 month ago, Casey was in the clubhouse with the one-stroke lead as Tiger was roaring in red on a final day for the first time in forever, captivating both the record gallery and television audience.
And oh yeah, as if the specter of Tiger wasn’t enough pressure for Casey to go low that Sunday, Patrick Reed was in the mix and in the clubhouse as a prelude to winning the Masters and his first major a few weeks later.
“I finished my round, had the media interviews, and went to the locker room and watched Tiger for the last 2½ holes,” reflected Casey on beating both Tiger and Reed by one stroke. “After seeing Tiger hole a 45-foot birdie on the 17th, I watched for the worst and hoped for the best, but finally came out on top after Tiger had always got the best of me.”
The win was even more meaningful since Casey performed on a Sunday at the challenging Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf & Spa Resort.
“I thought I blew it on Saturday, and didn’t know if I could win unless I shot an amazing round, but I played over the moon and made the key putts that final day,” recalled Casey of his first win since 2009.
Indeed he did, and has been reaping the rewards ever since.
“Tiger and I talked for the first time at few weeks later at The Masters and I was able to give him some grief, and he was very complimentary,” reminisced the Englishman. “We have a great relationship, and I am a big Tiger fan.”
But now, Casey is excited to defend his championship March 21-24 in the Tampa area on the Gulf Coast.
“Returning to Valspar means seeing images in the clubhouse and such of myself as champion, which is the proudest thing a golfer can experience since I am now part of the history of this great event,” stated the Arizona State University alumnus. “The Copperhead Course is one of the most respected tracks on the Florida swing and this year’s field strength is great, so the whole week is the whole package and I want to go back-to-back.”
Given his recent second-place finish to Phil Michelson at the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, he may do just that.
“My Valspar win sparked excitement in rekindling my enjoyment for the sport, and adding in the Ryder Cup win in Paris last September, I am hungrier than ever and playing well,” recalled Casey, who grew up playing against the likes of Justin Rose and Luke Donald.
Now the father of two young children, Casey has a new perspective like all parents.
“The clock is ticking, and I am a happy guy in a good place,” he exclaimed. “I love and enjoy this game, and would love to win at age 48 like Phil just did at Pebble.”
Bur for the time being, he has Valspar in his sights.
“I am the defending champion so why would I change a lot from my strategy that won last year? Casey asked rhetorically. “I have a handle on how to attack Copperhead, and will continue to be aggressive since it worked so well that I will keep doing it. Hopefully, my caddie John McLaren kept his notes.”